Dec 17, 2020 - Health

Extra doses of Pfizer vaccine could expand U.S. supply

Photo of a masked doctor receiving the Pfizer vaccine from a masked nurse wearing gloves

An infectious disease doctor in California receives the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, Dec. 17. Photo: Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty

Pfizer vaccine vials contain extra doses that could boost America's supply by up to 40%, the Food and Drug Administration announced on Wednesday.

Driving the news: The U.S. has 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to inoculate 50 million people but declined to buy more doses earlier this year. The vaccine is first being administrated to frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

  • Extra doses could expand the country's inventory, and help mitigate the possibility of demand eclipsing supply, Politico, which first reported the news, writes.

What they're saying: "At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue," the FDA tweeted Wednesday evening.

  • The agency explained it was working with Pfizer to determine “the best path forward."
  • But, but, but: "The amount of vaccine remaining in the multidose vial after removal of 5 doses can vary, depending on the type of needles and syringes used," Pfizer said in a statement.
  • "At this time, we cannot provide a recommendation on the use of the remaining amount of vaccine from each vial. Vaccinators need to consult their institution’s policies for the use of multidose vials."

The state of play: Pfizer's glass vials were expected to contain five doses, but pharmacists noticed enough for six to seven.

  • Federal health officials are telling states to use the extra doses — without contaminating across multiple vials — in an effort to meet demand as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S.
  • The U.S. hit a record 300,000 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday.

Context: The Trump administration is negotiating with Pfizer to purchase additional doses, but the pharmaceutical company might not be able to provide more vaccines until summer 2021, per Politico.

  • Moderna, the only other company whose COVID-19 vaccine has been deemed safe and "highly effective" by the FDA, has agreed to provide doses for 200 million people by the end of June.
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