Scramble for specialty syringes as Pfizer, feds look to extract 6th vaccine doses

COVID-19 vaccine
Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine vials contain an extra doses of the in-demand shot, but those doses can only be accessed with a special needle.(Kunal Mahto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Syringe makers are scrambling to meet demand for so-called low dead space syringes as Pfizer and the U.S. look to squeeze out extra vaccine doses. The specialty needles are needed to eke out a sixth shot in Pfizer and BioNTech's Comirnaty prepared five-dose glass vials.

Physicians and pharmacists discovered the potential extra dose after they began vaccinating patients. But initial enthusiasm has been dampened by the requirement of the now-scarce specialty needles to extract the last bit from each vial.

Syringe maker Becton Dickinson contracted with the U.S. government to supply needles for COVID vaccinations without knowing about the niche need. The manufacturer confirmed to Fierce Pharma that its U.S. government contract includes a limited supply of the specialty needles. A spokesman told Reuters that Becton Dickinson is on target to provide 286 million syringes for use with COVID-19 vaccines, a figure that only includes about 40 million low dead space syringes.

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McKesson, contracted with the government to distribute ancillary vaccine kits for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, said in mid-January that it was creating “mega supply kits.” While it did not specify the inclusion of low dead space needles, the kits will allow each standard tray of 975 Pfizer and BioNTech doses to administer 1,170 doses, the company reports on its website.

The Biden administration plans to use the Defense Protection Act to increase low dead space syringe production, along with other vaccine and testing equipment including gloves, swabs and masks. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that it has “already identified suppliers” for the planned manufacturing bolster.

Pfizer and BioNTech got FDA approval earlier this month for the six shots per vial, but the nod—and Pfizer’s response—have raised concerns. Pfizer began counting the extra doses toward its vaccine dose orders to the feds, but watchdogs pushed back.

Sam Buffone, a partner with the whistleblower law firm Black & Buffone, told The Washington Post last week that “many of those sixth doses might ultimately be discarded because distribution centers lack the proper tools,” referring to the specialty syringes.

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A reported deal between Pfizer and the U.S. government would track shipments and count vials as six doses only if low dead space injectors were shipped along with the vaccines.

In Europe, British healthcare supply company Vernacare said it has delivered 100 million low dead space syringes to BioNTech and is in discussions for more. The company, along with partner Hospidex NV, is ramping up to a production capacity of more than 1 billion low dead space needles this year.