The federal government says it has “proactively” ordered 64 million special syringes that, if used effectively, can stretch the precious COVID-19 vaccine even further.
Currently, Canada is extracting five doses from a single vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but the company has recently pushed Health Canada to change the label information and approve the extraction of six doses.
Health Canada’s regulatory team is still considering the request, but the approval appears imminent.
That’s why the federal government has increased its order for the special syringes that make it possible, said Anita Anand, Canada’s public services and procurement minister.
Anand said the order of 64 million syringes will help “maximize the extraction of doses per vial.”
A spokesperson for Procurement Canada confirmed to Global News the 64 million syringes include 37.5 million which were ordered previously.
If Health Canada decides to grant Pfizer’s request, Canada will need to ensure it has enough of the right kind of needle to extract that final dose from every vial delivered. Pfizer will recalculate the number of vials it ships to Canada to account for each containing an additional dose of Canada’s promised 40 million.
“We’re going to see deliveries of one million of these syringes this week and, within days, another delivery of another one million of these syringes,” Anand said, adding that the deliveries will continue through April and May.
“This is in addition to the purchases made by the provinces and territories they themselves have put in place,” she added in French.
The so-called “low dead-space syringes” limit vaccine from getting trapped in the needle. They’ve become a global hot commodity in recent weeks as many countries try to secure six doses from each vial of Pfizer’s vaccine instead of the standard five.
Pfizer urged the U.S. and Europe to change the label information, and both did in early January. The pharmaceutical company made the same request to Canada last week.
But securing these syringes isn’t as simple as filling out some paperwork.
European health officials have complained that a shortage of the special syringes is making it hard to get six doses out of each vial. Canadian health officials have voiced similar concerns about supply.
Then there’s the “human aspect” of green-lighting a six-dose regimen, said Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer.
“It’s not easy” to extract six doses from the vial, he said in French.
“It’s not certain that in each vial, vaccinators will always be able to obtain those six doses,” he said.
“You perhaps need a certain level of experience. So then there’s the issue of training people who will administer the vaccine. It’s an issue and we’re working with stakeholders to improve this aspect.”
As it stands, it’s “still five doses per vial,” Njoo said.
“Our colleagues at Health Canada will continue their work on this matter.”
Canada has come under increasing pressure over the slow pace of vaccine rollout.
While worries about supply and speed are brewing around the world, Canada seems to be falling short compared to its allies, like the U.K. and U.S.
A recent analysis from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Canada as on par with Brazil in terms of vaccine delivery timelines, while the United States and Europe were all on track for widespread vaccination by the end of this year.
The report suggested Canada may not be on track for widespread vaccination by September 2021, which is when Trudeau has vowed everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. (edited)
— with files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel GilmoreView link »