Could COVID-19 Vaccine Syringe Shortage Stall Progress Of Getting Shots Into Arms?

Vaccination is the key to ending the coronavirus crisis, but it's not just doses that are in short supply. As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports, there is also a shortage of syringes to administer the vaccine.

Video Transcript

- Now in this Hour 18, reopening plans pushed back across the state as new COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to go up.

- We'll dig into the numbers in just a minute, but first, more than 5 and 1/2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have now been given in Illinois. But as the city and counties continue to push for more vaccines, we've learned there's a shortage of the syringes. CBS2 investigator, Megan Hickey, has been digging into the shortage and joins us in our streetside studio. Megan, could this stall our progress getting shots into arms?

MEGAN HICKEY: Erica, we asked the state and we asked manufacturers, and right now the answer is no. But companies like Medline tell me they are ramping up production to levels never seen before. COVID-19 vaccine doses are small, usually less than half a milliliter, so right now, 1 milliliter low dead-space syringes are the gold standard to help conserve every drop of vaccine by limiting the dead space between the syringe hub and the needle.

BEN DUCK: It's the most preferred. The one ML low dead-space syringe is what everybody wants right now.

MEGAN HICKEY: But Medline's Ben Duck tells me there's a fixed global supply of syringes and needles, and even though they're expecting to ship three times the syringes this year than they did in 2019-- so you are getting those requests from these customers that say we need more.

BEN DUCK: We are getting requests. That's absolutely right. It's a matter of having the right supply in the right place at the right time, and those things don't always line up.

MEGAN HICKEY: Luckily, other syringes will still work. They just might not be as efficient. The Illinois Department of public health tells me they're getting requests for additional syringes to be included in vaccine kits, but they say it's not a shortage generally but a desire of providers for more of a specific type of syringe.

Walgreens told the CBS2 investigators, syringe supplies are tight. However, it has not affected Walgreens' ability to administer the vaccine, a spokesperson said. That was also our question for Medline. Is it to the point where a lack of syringes could inhibit our vaccination progress?

BEN DUCK: At one specific location at one time, they may struggle, but overall, in the United States, I don't foresee there being a global shortage at all.

MEGAN HICKEY: North Field based Medline was one of six companies awarded multimillion dollar Department of Defense contracts for syringes and safety needles last August. Duck says they're aware of how their particular syringes could help conserve every last drop of precious vaccine.

BEN DUCK: We've got the pedal to the metal and doing as much as we possibly can.

MEGAN HICKEY: Now we also heard back from CVS Health, which says so far, they have not experienced a shortage of syringes. So far, those numbers have matched their number of doses. Erica.

- OK, and, Megan, also the type of syringe has proven crucial when it comes to how many doses are extracted from each vial.

MEGAN HICKEY: Right, Erica. So the FDA approved these low dead-space syringes for squeezing out a sixth dose from those Pfizer vials and an 11th dose from the Moderna vials, which, over time, could mean millions of extra doses.

- Certainly important there. Thank you. Megan Hickey reporting live.