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COVID vaccines

Terumo develops syringe to help stretch Pfizer vaccine supplies

Japan company's design can yield at least one more dose from every vial

The needle of Terumo's new syringe is shorter than standard needles and minimizes the amount of vaccine left after use. (Source photos by Terumo/Kyodo and screenshot from Terumo's website)

TOKYO -- Japanese medical equipment maker Terumo in the next 12 months plans to make 20 million syringes that can pull one or two extra doses out of each Pfizer vaccine vial, Nikkei has learned, with the company intent on beginning mass production by the end of this month.

Terumo on Friday received approval from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to manufacture and market the newly developed syringe. The company plans to produce the 20 million syringes by the end of next March at an existing factory in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture.

After April 2022, Terumo will increase production by enhancing its factory equipment.

The syringe is designed to accommodate Japanese body types. The needle is shorter and minimizes the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use.

With standard syringes, a vial can usually yield five doses, though some syringes allow for yields of six doses.

Terumo's syringe will increase the number to seven doses, and the Japanese government is working toward allowing its use in the medical field with plans to purchase the entire production run.

The company expects to start shipping the product after spring but is still working with the government on specific details about how to supply the syringes.

Terumo began developing the low dead space syringe at the end of January, after receiving a request from the government.

It is based on the company's hypodermic syringe, which initially went on sale in 2009 for influenza vaccines. Terumo has reduced the amount of dead space between the syringe hub and the needle, and designed it so it can be used for intramuscular injections, which deliver medication deep into muscle tissue.

A standard intramuscular syringe has a needle length of 25 mm; Terumo's new syringe will have a 16-mm needle.

The company has determined that a shorter needle can reach the inner muscles of most Japanese, who are usually leaner with less subcutaneous fat than Westerners.

After use, about 0.002 ml of vaccine will be left in the syringe. This is about one-fifteenth of what is left in the syringes that are now being used for COVID-19 inoculations. An in-house review found that Terumo's syringes can draw seven doses from one vial of vaccine from U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The syringes promise to break new ground. "The package insert that stipulates the handling of the coronavirus vaccine states that the product contained in each bottle is just for six doses," Pfizer Japan notes.

But Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare says "it does not deny the ability to draw seven doses."

"If the thickness and length of the needle is sufficient for effective and safe vaccination," said Hidetoshi Igari, the head of Chiba University's coronavirus vaccine center, "we will use a syringe that can take seven doses to maximize the limited amounts of vaccine."

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