- Pfizer will ship fewer COVID-19 vaccine vials to the US after extra doses were discovered.
- The company has pushed the FDA to formally acknowledge the extra doses found in each vial.
- Some pharmacists say they’re still struggling to extract the extra doses.
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Last month, pharmacists across the US found a pleasant surprise when they discovered that the vials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine contained extra doses.
As a result, Pfizer will now ship fewer vials of vaccine to the US to account for that, according to a New York Times report. The pharmaceutical company has committed to providing 200 million vaccine doses to the US by the end of July. The extra doses found in the initial allocations will now count toward that number.
Pfizer charges by the dose and for weeks has reportedly pushed officials at the US Food and Drug Administration to formally acknowledge that the vials contain six (and sometimes seven) doses, instead of five.
Earlier this month, the FDA obliged, changing the wording of the vaccine’s emergency use authorization, according to The Times. Pfizer officials argued the distinction was necessary, since the federal government’s contract required payment by the dose.
But some pharmacists say they’ve had challenges actually extracting those extra doses, because that process requires a special syringe.
“Now there’s more pressure to make sure that you get that sixth dose out,” Michael Ganio, the senior director for pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists told The Times.
Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, said that the extra sixth dose allows the company to extend its vaccine supply further. Pfizer had originally estimated it could manufacture 1.3 billion doses in 2021, but the discovery of the extra doses reportedly played a role in the company’s most recent estimate of two billion doses by the end of the year.
When pharmacists first discovered the extra doses, there was both excitement and confusion. Some even threw out the extra doses because they hadn’t been given permission to use them, according to the newspaper. But the FDA soon offered both permission and instruction for using the extra doses.
At the time, the extra doses seemed to suggest that instead of the 100 million doses Pfizer had originally promised the US by the end of March, the country could wind up with as many as 120 million, some good news amid the chaotic vaccine rollout, but Pfizer demanded that the extra doses instead be counted as part of its existing contract.
“Pfizer will make a lot of money from these vaccines, and the US government assumed a lot of the upfront risk in this case, so I’m not sure why Pfizer didn’t just continue to fill their supply as planned, even if it meant oversupplying a little,” Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School told The Times.
After weeks of reported language dispute between Pfizer and the FDA, the agency formally changed the vaccine’s fact sheet to specify that six doses were included in each vial.
The number of Pfizer vaccines allocated to each state could be based on that new language starting as soon as next week, The Times reported.
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