As South Africa drops AstraZeneca for Johnson & Johnson
By Sola Ogundipe
Millions of Pfizer vaccine doses may be discarded when Japan begins its Covid-19 vaccination rollout next week due to a shortage of specialist syringes required to extract the vaccine from the vials.
A shortage of the low “dead space” syringes, which have narrow plungers that can push out any leftover vaccine, means vaccinators in Japan will have to use mainly standard syringes that are capable of extracting only five doses per vial, or enough for 60 million people.
The shortage of low dead space syringes has been reported in the US and European Union countries.
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Japan plans to begin its Covid vaccination programme on 17 February, pending local approval for the Pfizer vaccine, and there are fears that health workers administering the vaccine may be left with no option other than to discard the sixth and final dose.
This development which may prevent millions of people in the country from receiving their vaccine jabs as planned was largely an oversight by the government.
The government has defended its cautious approach to the vaccine rollout. A Japanese health ministry official said when the contract was made, there was no certainty that one bottle could be used for six shots.
Japan has secured 144m shots of the Pfizer vaccine – enough for 72 million people – on the assumption that each vial contained six doses. Each recipient requires two jabs, three weeks apart, to increase the level of protection.
Japanese Health Minister, Norihisa Tamura, noted that standard syringes in use in Japan are unable to extract the sixth and final dose from each vial
Lamenting the development, he said: “The syringes used in Japan can only draw five doses. We will use all the syringes we have that can draw six doses, but it will, of course, not be enough as more shots are administered.”
The government is requesting medical equipment manufacturers to increase the production of the specialist syringes.
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 frontline health workers, are to be vaccinated first, followed by another 3.7 million health workers from mid-March.
The rollout for 36 million people aged 65 and over is not expected to begin until early April.
The general population of persons aged 16 to 59, is expected to kick off around July when Tokyo plans to host the postponed summer Olympics.
South Africa drops AstraZeneca for Johnson & Johnson
Meanwhile, South Africa is proceeding with its immunisation campaign with Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after preliminary trial data showing the AstraZeneca shot does not significantly reduce the risk of mild-to-moderate illness caused by the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified late last year in the country.
South Africa, which has recorded almost 1.5 million coronavirus infections, and more than 46,800 deaths which is the highest in Africa, has put on hold plans to begin vaccinating healthcare workers the AstraZeneca shots.
A government factsheet said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be offered from mid-February. A senior health official said Johnson & Johnson had agreed to speed up deliveries so the first doses would become available around the end of the week.
“Our vaccine rollout plan has not changed, except that we will begin with the Johnson & Johnson instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” the factsheet stated.
Johnson & Johnson said it was in advanced discussions with South Africa about “potential additional collaborations” to combat COVID-19. “We hope to be able to share more details in the coming days,” it said.