COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Being Sent to Africa, But Continent Now Has Syringe Shortage

While the number of available COVID-19 vaccine doses is on the rise, African health officials and the United Nations are warning low- and middle-income countries could begin seeing a shortage of more than two billion syringes to administer the shots, the Associated Press reported. The shortage could affect routine vaccinations in Africa, where just 6 percent of the continent's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated.

There could be a shortage of up to 2.2 billion auto-disposable syringes that intentionally lock after one use, the U.N. children's agency said. The agency attributed the shortage to "significantly higher demand," snares in the supply chain, national restrictions on syringe exports and an unstable vaccine supply.

"We are not anticipating a significant supply shortage of the more standard syringes used in high-income countries," the agency said in a statement.

Africa has faced months of delays in receiving vaccine doses, but recently saw the flow of shots increase, the AP reported. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization's Africa director, warned that a shortfall in syringes to vaccinate the vulnerable population "could paralyze progress." Some African countries, like South Africa and Kenya, have already seen delays in receiving syringes, according to the WHO.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Africa Syringe Shortage
African health officials and the United Nations warned Thursday, October 28, 2021 of a looming shortage of up to 2 billion syringes for mainly low- and middle-income countries around the world. A health worker prepares a dose of China's Sinopharm vaccine during the start of a vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at the Health Ministry in Dakar, Senegal, on February 23, 2021. Leo Correa/AP Photo

Routine childhood vaccinations "are going to be impacted," said Sibusiso Hlatjwako of the health organization PATH, which forecasts that the problem could persist "way into 2022." PATH looked at data from manufacturers and said more than 100 countries around the world use the auto-disposable syringes affected.

Overall, the modeling "shows a sizeable gap now," he said.

The syringe shortage is already complicating COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Rwanda, which has been receiving COVID-19 vaccines with a "very short shelf life" of sometimes a month or two before expiration dates, Sabin Nsanzimana with the Rwanda Biomedical Center told reporters.

"You have to get these syringes in a short timeline," he said, "otherwise you have vaccines expiring in your hands."

Health officials said another complication is that the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, used widely across Africa, requires a new and different syringe. There is no global stockpile for the new auto-disposable syringe, and the market for them is "tight and extremely competitive," the WHO said.

The African continent has few syringe manufacturers and none that make the Pfizer one, the WHO said.

COVID-19 vaccine donations to African countries are now surpassing syringe availability, and countries in some cases are having to source syringes separately, WHO vaccination official Phionah Atuhebwe told reporters. "Without a plan, we should be in big trouble."

African health officials say the African continent is seeing a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past month, but Moeti warned that another increase could come around the approaching holiday season.

The African continent has had more than 8.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 218,000 deaths.

Syringe Shortfall
While the number of available COVID-19 vaccine doses are on the rise, African health officials and the United Nations are warning that mainly low- and middle-income countries could begin seeing a shortage of more than two billion syringes to administer the shots. A health worker picks syringes as seniors get vaccinated with the first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at the newly-opened mass vaccination program for the elderly at a drive-thru vaccination center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 25, 2021. Themba Hadebe/AP Photo