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Extra Doses of Pfizer Vaccine in  Vials Could Stretch U.S. Supply

THURSDAY, Dec. 17, 2020 (Healthday News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that additional doses can be drawn from vials of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, after pharmacists noticed the vials contained more than the expected five doses.

The discovery could expand the country's supply by millions of doses just as the Trump administration negotiates with Pfizer to speed up delivery of the next round of vaccine doses, the Washington Post reported. The agency said it is in touch with Pfizer about how to handle the vial issue, but regulators said those extra doses from a single vial can be used.

"At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable -- the sixth, or possibly even a seventh -- from each vial, pending resolution of the issue," an agency spokesman confirmed for the Post.

Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Post that the potential for millions of extra doses is "incredibly good news."

"If vaccine is as good as it's been in the trials, it's a silver lining of the fact that we didn't get as much of the Pfizer vaccine as we originally could have," she said.

Now, the supply of remaining vaccine could be up to 40 percent greater, though Pfizer cautioned that it's uncertain how many extra doses are available, the Post reported. The FDA and Pfizer also stressed that any leftover vaccine from different vials that is smaller than a full dose should not be mixed together.

"The amount of vaccine remaining in the multidose vial after removal of 5 doses can vary, depending on the type of needles and syringes used," Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo explained in a statement.

The Pfizer vaccine will also get a credibility boost when Vice President Mike Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams receive their vaccinations on camera Friday.

However, a health care worker in Alaska did suffer a serious allergic reaction after getting the vaccine earlier this week. That worker is now recovering, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, federal health officials said Wednesday they are in talks with Pfizer to purchase tens of millions of additional doses this spring after the drug company said the United States probably would have to wait until this summer.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he is "very optimistic" about negotiations in which federal officials are trying to help Pfizer ramp up production for the second quarter of 2021.

"We are working with them to provide them whatever assistance, now that they have identified some of the production challenges," Azar said at a Wednesday briefing, the Post reported.

Federal officials have insisted they have enough doses with other vaccines likely to receive emergency authorization, including the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be granted emergency use in the next few days.

Vaccine campaign begins as poll shows 70% will get it

On Tuesday morning, scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a data review that almost guarantees a second vaccine will soon join the Pfizer vaccine in making its way to sites in all 50 states: Moderna's two-shot regimen, which is based on the same technology as the Pfizer vaccine, was found to be 94 percent effective in a clinical trial and carried no serious safety concerns. The glowing assessment positions the Moderna vaccine for approval from an FDA advisory panel that is meeting on Thursday, the Postreported.

As the first doses of Pfizer's vaccine made their way to the arms of health care workers around the United States, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 71% of Americans say they will "definitely or probably" get a COVID-19 vaccine.

That's up from 63% in September, and it's a sign that a growing number of Americans are starting to trust the science behind the vaccines as they become more comfortable with the speed in which the vaccines are being developed.

Still, just over a quarter of Americans are hesitant to get a vaccine, saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists. The greatest reluctance was seen among Black Americans, people living in rural areas and Republicans.

And not everyone wants a shot right away: A third of those surveyed said they want to get a vaccine "as soon as possible," while 39% of those surveyed said they would "wait and see" how initial vaccination efforts go before getting a vaccine themselves. Kaiser polled 1,676 adults for the survey.

U.S. officials said they are on track to meet initial vaccine delivery targets this week, with deliveries to 636 facilities so far and an additional 886 planned for Thursday, the Post reported.

An additional 2 million Pfizer doses are scheduled for delivery next week, and 5.9 million Moderna doses are allocated if the vaccine clears regulatory hurdles in the coming days, the Post reported.

Most of the first round of injections are to be given to high-risk health care workers, The New YorkTimes said. Because the vaccines can cause side effects including fevers and aches, hospitals have said they will stagger vaccinations among their workers.

Residents of nursing homes, who have suffered a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths, will begin to get shots next week, the Times reported. A vast majority of Americans will not be eligible for vaccinations until the spring or later.

Azar said the plan is to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of December, up to 50 million by the end of January and 100 million by the end of February, the Post reported.

A global scourge

By Thursday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 16.9 million while the death toll passed 307,000, according to a Times tally. By Thursday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were California with over 1.7 million, Texas with more than 1.5 million cases, Florida with over 1.1 million cases; Illinois with over 872,000 cases and New York with nearly 809,000 cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count passed 9.9 million on Thursday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. More than 144,400 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India's younger and leaner population. Still, the country's public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, Brazil had over 7 million cases and nearly 184,000 deaths as of Thursday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 734.3 million on Thursday, with over 1.6 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: Washington Post; The New York Times

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