However, some syringes sold by Operation Warp Speed, the federal Covid-19 vaccination program, are not efficient enough to extract a sixth dose, according to hospital lobbyists. They say the problem seems to stem from supply chain issues that worried the country’s pandemic response from the start.
In the meantime, some hospitals fear that they don’t have enough vaccine to give a second dose to everyone they’ve vaccinated so far – as the Pfizer vaccine is given two weeks apart.
Federal officials admitted to POLITICO that they are aware of the syringe problem. “Operation Warp Speed is rapidly exploring options to reconfigure the associated ancillary supply kits to accommodate the potential additional doses,” said a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
When asked if the decision to ship less efficient syringes was related to problems in the supply chain, HHS did not respond.
Warp Speed packs vaccination kits with needles and syringes that are sent with the weekly vaccine deliveries. The more efficient syringes, known as the low dead volume syringes, are a specialty included in the kits when available and as part of a combination of needles and syringes to meet the height requirements of all patients, “said the HHS spokesman.
Low dead volume syringes are designed so that less vaccine is trapped between the plunger and needle of the syringe – the “dead volume” – once a shot is fired. However, the number of doses a health care worker receives from a multiple-dose vial is also affected by the technology used by the provider, the HHS spokesman said.
The kits provided by the federal government ensure that health care workers have the supplies they need to put shots in the arms of Americans and that the supplies are free for providers.
Some health care providers have made their officials aware of the syringe problem, said Claire Hannan, director of the Association of Immunization Managers. And hospitals have raised the problem with the American Hospital Association, the federal lobby that represents about 5,000 hospitals nationwide.
The problem occurs amid a slow start in US vaccination efforts that failed to meet Warp Speed’s original goal of vaccination 20 million people by the end of 2020. Around 6.7 million people had received one of two approved vaccines – Pfizers or one from Moderna – by Friday, even though the federal government had been handing out just over 22 million doses at the time.
Nancy Foster, the AHA’s vice president for quality and patient safety, said the mix of syringes raises questions about the possibility of giving a second dose to anyone who has received a first shot.
“With the second dose of Pfizer that is now getting into people’s arms, we received a variety of injections that are less effective. So you have to put up a little extra vaccine to get the right dose in the person’s arm, “Foster said.” We don’t have the sixth dose now. “
Pfizer ships its vaccine in trays containing 195 vials, each containing five doses. Hospitals that squeezed out the extra doses initially could vaccinate an additional 195 people per container of the Pfizer shot, Foster said. Now they have to make sure they can take the second round of shooting.
However, Mitchel Rothholz, the American Pharmacists Association’s head of vaccination policy, said it shouldn’t be difficult to ensure a second dose for anyone who has been vaccinated. This is because the number of second or booster shots sent to vaccination sites is based on the number of initial vaccinations at each site.
“The way in which they are tracked does not depend on the vials, but on the doses given,” said Rothholz.
At least one state vaccination coordinator confirmed that Warp Speed has shipped various types of syringes since vaccinations began in December.
“After seeing all of the add-on kits from the start and across the state, there was a mix of syringe types throughout the facility,” said Krista Capehart, director of regulatory affairs for the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy and designer of the state’s distribution plan.
She confirmed that one type of syringe is “more routinely able to get the sixth dose” and the other less likely.
Rothholz said his group is looking into this – but they’re not sure if the problem is the technique that vendors used to remove cans from the vial or the type of syringes they use.
“We’re investigating more about this,” said Rothholz, adding that his group plans to contact the Food and Drug Administration. “We asked our members.”