The government will allow hospitals to administer Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine using insulin syringes, which can yield seven shots per vial as opposed to the five possible with the type of syringe the government procured for inoculating Japan against the novel coronavirus, health minister Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday.
The move could speed up the country’s vaccine rollout amid concerns of a supply shortage owing to production delays at Pfizer’s factory in Belgium and European Union export controls.
Taro Kono, minister in charge of the country’s vaccination efforts, said the government will look into procuring insulin syringes “if there is a surplus.”
Last week, Uji-Tokushukai Medical Center in Kyoto Prefecture said it had found that insulin syringes — which do not have as much “dead space,” meaning less fluid is left in the needle after a shot — could be used to extract seven shots of the Pfizer vaccine from each vial.
Since launching its vaccination program in mid-February, Japan has been using six-shot syringes on an initial group of 40,000 health care workers.
For the inoculation of 4.8 million other medical workers that started this month, the more widely available five-shot syringes have been used.
The country has a supply agreement with Pfizer for 144 million doses, enough for more than half its population, within this year. Other vaccines developed by the U.K.’s AstraZeneca PLC and Moderna Inc. of the United States are under review by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for fast-track approval.
The health ministry last week approved a low dead space syringe developed by Terumo Corp. that can also yield seven shots per vial of the Pfizer vaccine, with production ready to begin as early as the end of this month.
The medical equipment maker expects to manufacture 20 million of the syringes, which were designed using know-how from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, in the fiscal year beginning in April, according to people familiar with the matter.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called vaccines the “decisive factor” for bringing COVID-19 under control in Japan, with the economy languishing under restrictions on dining out and with less than five months to go until this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
But the government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, on Tuesday called on the public to continue taking precautions against COVID-19 even after getting vaccinated, including wearing masks, adding that the health ministry would update its guidelines as needed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that people who have been fully vaccinated can meet with each other indoors without wearing masks or using physical distancing.
Those fully vaccinated can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with is considered to be at severe risk if they catch COVID-19, according to the CDC.
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