At a United Nations briefing on Nov. 9., WHO medicines access expert Lisa Hedman said that there have been roughly 6.8 billion coronavirus vaccine doses administered this year. This is almost double the number of typical routine vaccinations and used almost two billion more syringes than were manufactured in 2020.
She added that if manufacturing priorities are not updated to produce more syringes, there could be a worldwide shortage of injection needles by one to two billion next year.
Hedman warned that the possible global shortage of immunization syringes could cause some serious problems like slowing down immunization efforts and safety concerns. Shifting capacity from one type of syringe to another or trying to expand capacity for specialized immunization syringes will require time and investment from manufacturers, Hedman noted.
A syringe shortage could also result in delays in other vaccinations and health services, especially for children. Additionally, the shortage could force poor nations to reuse syringes and needles, which is unsanitary and will cause more harm than good.
To prevent this, Hedman advised nations to plan their needs in advance to avoid a “hoarding and panic buying type of situation” commonly observed during the early days of the pandemic. When COVID-19 first started to spread across the globe, many nations were short on items like masks and personal protective equipment because no one anticipated how badly the pandemic would affect the world. (Related: Truckers warn of massive disruptions to supply chain due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.)
Syringe shortage could hit African countries the hardest
In late October, the WHO also released a similar warning about syringe shortages. However, the organization said that the hardest hit would be African countries that have lagged behind in overall COVID-19 inoculations.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, coronavirus vaccines will start arriving in Africa in early 2022. But despite the availability of the vaccines, the shortage of syringes could delay vaccinations in the country.
Moeti added that Africa must take “drastic measures” immediately to boost syringe production because the lives of many Africans hang in the balance. Africa is still the least vaccinated continent in the world, and the WHO said that only five African countries could reach its target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their populations by the end of 2021.
But many question if vaccinations are necessary in Africa, especially since COVID-19 cases in the continent are lower compared to other areas.
While there has been an increase in coronavirus deaths throughout Africa since mid-July, the overall impact of the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa is still significantly lower compared to the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Experts believe that several factors might be linked to the low burden of COVID-19 illness in the continent, such as age demographics, lack of long-term care facilities, potential cross-protection from previous exposure to circulating coronaviruses, limitations of COVID-19 testing (which may have resulted in an undercounting of deaths) and effective government public health responses.”
Like in the U.S., lockdowns have taken a toll on sub-Saharan Africa’s already struggling economy and society. Because of lockdowns, constant issues like food insecurity, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy and disruptions in treatment of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV have gotten worse.
And because Africa’s 54 nations are all different, experts said local responses should be updated to more effectively address the health, social and economic realities in specific countries.
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