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COVID-19 vaccine syringes supplied by Japanese gov't criticized as 'difficult to use'

A syringe with a capacity of 2 milliliters, top, that was delivered to the Shibukawa Municipal Government, and another type of syringe with a capacity of 1 milliliter, is seen in the city of Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, on June 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Tetsuya Shoji)

SHIBUKAWA, Gunma -- Numerous health care workers and local governments have voiced complaints over the relatively short and thick types of syringes the Japanese government is supplying for vaccinations against COVID-19.

    The syringes, which have a capacity of 2 milliliters, have been criticized as being "difficult to use" and "posing a concern for medical accidents." While the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is aware of such complaints, it said that it "has no choice but to have municipalities use the syringes until there is a clear outlook on (alternative) supplies."

    "We are handing the syringes over to medical institutions while explaining that they 'may have defects,'" said an official of the Shibukawa Municipal Government in Gunma Prefecture, which began coronavirus vaccinations at medical institutions on May 17. Long and narrow syringes with a 1 ml capacity are suitable for inoculations, but those distributed by the national government are short and thick.

    According to the city, the vaccines it has received from the Japanese government are produced by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and one dose is 0.3 ml. The scale markings on 1 ml syringes are displayed in 0.01 ml increments, and also have numbers for every 0.1 ml, making it easy to read them and make slight adjustments. However, the 2 ml syringes have scale markings only for every 0.1 ml, and have no number at the 0.3 ml mark.

    There are also concerns regarding the utility of the thicker syringes. Hideo Tsukagoshi, a medical practitioner in the city who conducts vaccinations using the 2 ml syringes, said, "As the person giving the shot tenses up, the needle enters deeply, which is a burden on individuals receiving the vaccine. The syringe plunger won't move easily, and there are also instances of the liquid leaking out from between the needle and syringe, which causes stress on the user's end." The doctor has apparently also pointed out these problems to the municipal government.

    Similar complaints have emerged in other prefectures. A representative of the Tochigi Prefectural Government's infectious diseases control section said that there have been voices claiming that "the plunger won't budge," and "it's hard to use." The Ibaraki Prefectural Government has also received complaints from health care workers.

    In May, the national government increased the number of doses to be extracted from one vaccine vial from five to six in order to speed up the vaccine rollout. Therefore, the number of syringes necessary for vaccinations rose, and as 1 ml types ran out, it was decided that 2 ml types were to be distributed too. A health ministry official belonging to the health division's immunization office acknowledged that there were complaints, but said that it was not immediately able to supply 1 ml syringes. The official said, "As soon as preparations are arranged, we'd like to prioritize distribution of 1 ml syringes."

    In the city of Shibukawa, syringes arrived in boxes containing 100 each, but there were also apparently defective ones whose main bodies were crooked or whose edges were chipped. Raising other issues including a shortage in syringes as well as a noticeable number of empty bags mixed in the packages, Shibukawa Mayor Tsutomu Takagi asked the Gunma Prefectural Government on June 16 to demand that the central government properly distribute syringes.

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Shibukawa Local Bureau)

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