NAIROBI, Kenya – African health officials and the United Nations warn of an impending shortage of more than 2 billion needles for mainly low- and middle-income countries around the world as the supply of COVID-19 doses increases and that routine vaccinations could be affected too.
The United Nations Children’s Agency said the shortfall would affect up to 2.2 billion disposable syringes that automatically lock to prevent them from being reused. “We do not anticipate a significant shortage of more standard syringes used in high-income countries,” the agency said in a statement. He blamed “considerably higher demand”, supply chain disruptions, national bans on syringe exports and an unpredictable supply of vaccines.
The threatened shortage comes as the flow of COVID-19 vaccine doses increases after months of delays to the African continent, the least protected region in the world with less than 6% of its population of 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated . Only five of Africa’s 54 countries are expected to reach the goal of fully immunizing 40% of their population by the end of the year.
“The scarcity of syringes could cripple progress,” World Health Organization director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti told reporters on Thursday. Already, some African countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda, have experienced delays in receiving syringes, the WHO said.
Routine childhood immunizations “are going to be impacted,” said Sibusiso Hlatjwako of the health organization PATH, who predicts the problem could persist “until 2022”. PATH has reviewed data from manufacturers and said more than 100 countries around the world are using the affected disposable syringes.
Overall, the modeling “shows a big gap now,” he said.
The syringe shortage is already complicating COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Rwanda, which has received COVID-19 vaccines with a “very short shelf life” of sometimes a month or two before expiration dates, Rwanda Biomedical Center’s Sabin Nsanzimana told reporters.
“You have to get these syringes on short notice,” he said, “otherwise you have expiring vaccines in your hands. “
Health officials said another complication is that the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, widely used across Africa, requires a new and different syringe. There is no worldwide stock for the new self-disposable syringe, and the market for them is “tight and extremely competitive,” the WHO said.
The African continent has few syringe manufacturers and none makes the Pfizer syringe, the WHO said.
Donations of COVID-19 vaccines to African countries now exceed syringe availability, and countries must in some cases source syringes separately, Phionah Atuhebwe, WHO immunization manager, told reporters. “Without a plan, we should be in big trouble. “
African health officials say the African continent is experiencing a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past month, but Moeti has warned that another increase could come as the season approaches. holidays.
The African continent has recorded more than 8.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 218,000 deaths.