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Ten days after Kenya received her first consignment of 795,600 Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses donated by the US, the Ministry of Health has admitted it is unable to administer the jab due to lack of special syringes.
The ministry, while ruling out the option of buying the syringes, told the Nation it is solely relying on the American government to send a batch of low dead space syringes to be able to administer the jab.
“We were expecting the US to send us the syringes that are supposed to be used to administer the doses we received, but they did not, and now we are waiting, as they had promised to do so,” a high ranking official at the Health ministry said.
In a telephone interview, Dr Andrew Mulwa, the director for Medical Services, Preventive and Promotive Health at the ministry, explained that officials are hopeful the US will soon donate the much needed syringes before the vaccines expire.
“The syringes and the doses were packed in two separate consignments, I think they are coming but I am not sure when.”
A low dead space syringe is different from a regular syringe as it has less space left between the needle and the plunger when it is fully pushed in, compared to traditional injecting equipment.
It also has a detachable needle. The dead space in a syringe holds blood after it has been used. Low dead space syringes can reduce the chance of spreading infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C if they’re re-used or shared, according to the National Health Institute of Research based in the United Kingdom.
Last December, as Pfizer-Biontech, the manufacturer, started distributing its Covid-19 vaccines across US, experts tasked with administering the jab raised concerns after noticing something strange — each vial of vaccine that was labelled by the manufacturer to accommodate five doses contained an extra fluid that they established was enough for a sixth dose.
Pfizer-Biontech was then granted clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which decided that this ‘extra dose’ would count towards Pfizer’s dose commitments, which meant that they could manufacture and deliver fewer vials than the contract agreement had previously stated.
However, there still was one major problem.
Getting that sixth dose out of the vials requires a ‘special’ syringe that is in short supply globally, thereby potentially hampering vaccination rollouts. “After dilution, vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contain six doses of 0.3ml of vaccine,” the FDA has highlighted in its Emergency Use Authorisation, while adding that low dead-volume syringes and/or needles can be used to extract six doses from a single vial.
“If standard syringes and needles are used, there may not be sufficient volume to extract a sixth dose from a single vial,” the regulator states in part on the official website.
While the shelf-life of Pfizer’s vaccine is six months, the consignment Kenya received 10 days ago was manufactured three months ago and the interval between the first and second doses is 21 days.
Dr Mulwa, who is not sure when the expected donation will arrive, however, insists that despite the lack of low dead space syringes, the ministry plans to roll out the jab before it expires.
“We have up to December to exhaust that consignment,” he assured.