WHO warns of shortage of 1-2b COVID-19 vaccine syringes

A Moroccan health shows syringes of the Pfizer-BioNTech at a COVID-19 vaccination centre, in the city of Sale, on Oct 5, 2021.
(FADEL SENNA / AFP)

BERLIN / LONDON / COPENHAGEN / SOFIA / CARACAS / PARIS / GENEVA – There could be a shortage of one to two billion syringes needed to administer COVID-19 vaccinations in 2022 which could also impact routine immunizations and undermine needle safety, the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday.

National health authorities should plan their needs well in advance to avoid the "hoarding, panic buying and type of situation" seen early in the pandemic with the lack of personal protective equipment, WHO expert Lisa Hedman said.

National health authorities should plan their needs well in advance to avoid the "hoarding, panic buying and type of situation" seen early in the pandemic with the lack of personal protective equipment, World Health Organization expert Lisa Hedman said

"We could have a global shortage of immunization syringes that could in turn lead to serious problems such as slowing down immunization efforts as well as safety concerns," she told a UN briefing.

A shortage could lead to delays in routine vaccinations, particularly for children, and other health services, and it could also encourage the unsafe reusing of syringes and needles, particularly in poorer countries, Hedman added.

About 6.8 billion COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered globally, almost double the number of routine vaccines, Hedman said, compared to total manufacturing capacity of about 6 billion immunization syringes a year.

That means the world could face a shortage of up to two billion syringes next year, unless more factories are shifted to producing the right kind of device for shots, Hedman said.

"If we shift capacity from one type of syringe to another or attempt to expand capacity for specialized immunization syringes, it takes time and investment," she said.

In this file photo taken on Oct 19, 2021, a doctor examines a patient at the COVID-19 unit of a hospital in Kjustendil, Bulgaria. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP)

Bulgaria

Bulgaria reported a record number of daily coronavirus deaths on Tuesday as the European Union's least vaccinated country grapples with a fourth wave of the pandemic, official data showed on Tuesday.

New infections were 5,286, down from a peak in late October, while 334 people died of the virus, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic.

Over 8,500 people were in hospital, including 734 in intensive care units, the data showed.

The Balkan country introduced a health pass entry to most indoor spaces last month in an effort to contain the spread of the infection and speed up vaccinations in the country, where only 30 percent of the adults are fully inoculated.

Over 250,000 people have taken at least one dose since the health pass was made mandatory on Oct 21, data showed.

Many Bulgarians remain vaccine sceptical amid entrenched mistrust in state institutions, misinformation and contradictory messages by politicians and experts ahead of a third parliamentary election this year on Nov 14.

ALSO READ: Global COVID-19 infections surpass 250m

In this file photo taken on March 23, 2020, a sign reading "No visitors allowed" hangs at the main entrance of the Copenhagen's University research lab where searchers work on a vaccine against the COVID-19 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Denmark

Denmark's government on Monday proposed reinstating the use of a digital "corona pass" to be presented when Danes visit indoor bars and restaurants, as the country is entering a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Denmark was one of few countries to lift almost all remaining restrictions in September after having avoided a third wave of infections over spring and summer due to broad lockdown measures imposed since Christmas.

But the number of daily infections has risen steadily to around 2,300 in recent days from a low of just over 200 in mid-September.

The positivity rate, the share of total tests made that were positive, has also risen steadily in the past weeks from 1.2 percent in mid-September to 2.3 percent by the end of October.

"Several European countries are now in the middle of their fourth wave of corona. In Denmark we are heading into our third corona wave," health minister Magnus Heunicke said during a televised briefing on Monday.

The corona pass, which is usually presented via an app on Danes' phones, is used to verify that the holder is vaccinated or has tested negative for the coronavirus.

The measure presented by the government, which is subject to parliamentary approval, will also require the pass to be presented for indoor gatherings over 200, such as in cinemas and museums.

France

France's public health authority has recommended people under 30 be given Pfizer's Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine when available instead of Moderna Inc's Spikevax jab, which carried comparatively higher risks of heart-related problems.

For persons aged over 30, however, the authority explicitly recommended the use of the Moderna vaccine, saying its effectiveness was slightly superior

The Haute Autorite de Sante, which does not have legal power to ban or license drugs but acts as an advisor to the French health sector, cited "very rare" risks linked to Myocarditis, a heart disease, that had shown up in recent data on the Moderna vaccine and in a French study published on Monday.

"Within the population aged under 30, this risk appears to be around five times lesser with Pfizer's Comirnaty jab compared to Moderna's Spikevax jab," HAS said in its opinion published on Monday.

HAS said that its recommendation, which would apply regardless of the vaccine's use as a first, second or third "booster" dose, would be valid until more scientific findings on the matter are known.

For persons aged over 30, however, the authority explicitly recommended the use of the Moderna vaccine, saying its effectiveness was slightly superior.

The European Union's drug regulator last month approved Moderna's booster vaccine, saying in its review that the jab may be given to people aged 18 years and above, at least six months after the second dose.

A man stands in front of an ad for cold medication hanging in the window of a pharmacy as he queues in front of a vaccination center in Radeberg, eastern Germany, to get a COVID-19 vaccination without an appointment, on Nov 8, 2021. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)

Germany

Germany on Monday recorded the highest seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate since the start of the pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.

The incidence rate increased to 201.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, up by almost 50 within one week, according to the RKI. The previous record — 197.6 — was set during the second COVID-19 wave in December last year. 

The RKI said that 15,513 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours, a week-on-week increase of 5,800. Last Friday, Germany recorded the highest ever number of daily infections — 37,120.

According to the German Intensive Care Register, around 2,600 COVID-19 patients received intensive care treatment on Monday, up from 2,000 a week ago. At the peak of the pandemic in Germany in early 2021, the figure exceeded 5,700.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care could double in the coming weeks if the number of new infections continues to rise, Christian Karagiannidis, scientific director at the DIVI, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Monday.

Although Germany is far from achieving herd immunity, the country's vaccination campaign has slowed down. As of Sunday, around 55.8 million people had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing the country's vaccination rate to 67.1 percent, according to the RKI.

Greece

Greece reported a new high of daily cases with 7,335 infections. It’s the sixth record in the past nine days, while the government took extra measures last week to contain spread of the virus by reaching out to unvaccinated people. Bookings for the first dose of the vaccine has been rising since then.

Russia

Russia on Tuesday reported a record daily COVID-19 death toll of 1,211, just one day after a nationwide workplace shutdown aimed at curbing a surge in cases was lifted across most regions.

Officials also reported 39,160 new coronavirus cases nationwide in the last 24 hours, down from a peak of 41,335 on Saturday.

In this file photo taken on  Aug 2, 2021, a member of staff cleans signage at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in west London. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

The Netherlands

A group of hospitals in the southern Dutch province of Limburg on Tuesday called for the government to take new measures to stem rising COVID-19 cases, saying they have no space or staff to handle more coronavirus patients.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands, as in other parts of Europe, are approaching all-time highs despite adult vaccination levels around 85 percent.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government announced last week new measures to slow the spread of the virus, two months after scrapping social distancing rules. The steps included the reintroduction of face masks in stores and broader use of the country's proof-of-vaccination "corona pass".

Cases have continued to rise, however, and the Netherlands' Institute for Health (RIVM) on Tuesday reported weekly cases were up 45 percent to 76,790, or more than 400 per 100,000 inhabitants.

"We are heading straight for a healthcare disaster and the whole system is becoming jammed," the five hospitals in Limburg said in a letter to Rutte's government. "We're convinced the rest of the Netherlands will be following us shortly."

They urged fresh measures including beginning immediately with booster vaccination shots for elderly and vulnerable patients.

Rutte's government has said it will offer booster shots to patients over the age of 60 once six months has passed since they were fully vaccinated.

His government is due to announce whether it will take new measures at a news conference scheduled for Friday.

UK

UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis has tested positive for coronavirus, he said in a tweet. Lewis is “experiencing mild symptoms.”

UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation George Freeman said on Nov 8 that he has had “a bad attack of COVID-19 .”

Besides, the UK said it would recognize COVID-19 vaccines on the World Health Organization's Emergency Use Listing later this month, adding China's Sinovac, Sinopharm and India's Covaxin to the country's approved list of vaccines for inbound travelers.

The changes will come into force from Nov 22.

The travel rules are being further simplified as all people under the age of 18 will be treated as fully vaccinated at the border and will be able to enter England without self-isolating on arrival, the Department for Transport said on Monday.

Meanwhile, the UK registered 32,322 new COVID-19 infections and 57 coronavirus related deaths on Monday, bringing the total loss of lives to 141,862, the UK Health Security Agency has said.  

The death toll only includes people who died within 28 days of their first positive test. 

While the infections have fallen by 16.6 percent in the past week, the number of deaths have increased by 8.2 percent.

There are currently 8,966 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

US

Merck & Co said the US committed to buy 1.4 million courses of its COVID-19 pill developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP for about $1 billion, bringing the country’s total to 3.1 million.

The purchases are contingent on Food and Drug Administration clearance of the oral antiviral, called molnupiravir, Merck said Tuesday in a statement, and the US has the ability to buy 2 million more courses. Merck shares rose 0.9 percent in pre-market trading.

Pills from Merck and Pfizer Inc have both shown effectiveness in keeping high-risk patients out of hospitals, and have been hailed as key tools in reversing the course of the pandemic. The US order is a positive sign for Merck after Pfizer’s results appeared to be stronger in preventing hospitalization and deaths.

While Pfizer’s Paxlovid was 89 percent effective in preventing high-risk patients from worsening, Merck’s trial showed 50 percent efficacy. Still, comparisons of the two drugs still aren’t clear, as there may have been baseline differences in the two companies’ study populations, Sam Fazeli, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said Monday in a research note.

Merck has said it will produce 10 million courses of its pill this year. Assuming those sell for $700, the price the US has paid up to this point, that represents $7 billion in potential sales, Fazeli said in the note.

Resistance is always a concern with antivirals, and doctors may eventually use COVID-19 pills together, both to boost effectiveness and reduce the risk that strains will emerge that can overcome the drugs.

“Antiviral therapy using just one drug has a risk of inducing drug resistance,” Fazeli said in the note. “One way of reducing this threat is to use drug combinations, as long as safety isn’t an issue.”

ALSO READ: Brazil's COVID-19 woes continue as death toll crosses 600,000 mark

Venezuela 

Venezuela has begun vaccinating children aged 2 to 11 against COVID-19 with the Cuban Soberana 2 vaccine, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez said on Monday.

Cuba, a close ally of President Nicolas Maduro's government, says its Abdala, Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus vaccines have an efficacy greater than 90 percent.

While Cuban officials say initial results are similar to those of other vaccines that significantly reduce transmission, severe disease and death, critics have complained that those results have not yet been peer-reviewed.

"In Venezuela, the use of the Soberana 2 vaccine, a Cuban vaccine, has already been authorized to vaccinate children between 2 and 11 years old," Rodriguez said live on state television.

From a school in western Caracas, Rodriguez added that medical workers had started vaccinating children whose immune systems were compromised.

There are approximately 3.5 million children between 2 and 11 years old in Venezuela, according to Health Minister Carlos Alvarado, who accompanied Rodriguez on the live broadcast.

Venezuelan medical and scientific academies, as well as pediatric unions, have expressed concern about the use of Cuban vaccines, saying that information on their safety and efficacy has not been published in scientific journals and their quality has not been verified in independent clinical trials or approved by the World Health Organization.