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Published on October 6, 2020

What are they

Needles and syringes are small medical devices used to inject fluids into the body, from vitamin K for newborn babies to insulin for diabetics. The company Becton, Dickinson and Co. provides up to 60% of needles and syringes for the global market, followed by Cardinal Health Inc., with 6% market share.

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How they’re used

Needles and syringes likely will be the key tools used to administer a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus once it’s developed. They’re used to inject the vaccine into the body.

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What went wrong

For now, the needle and syringe shortage is projected but not confirmed, since a vaccine — which will require billions of devices — hasn’t yet been tested and approved. But early indicators point to the possibility of a crisis. What we do know is that an estimated 850 million syringes will be required to vaccinate the United States. This is in addition to hundreds of millions of devices needed each year for injections and vaccines for other diseases and viruses, such as influenza. But traditional needles and syringes require vials, and a worldwide glass shortage means it may be impossible to source enough glass to make the necessary amount.

“Given the abject failure, frankly, of the administration to provide materials for testing and … PPE, we do worry if we’ll have enough of the vials and enough of the syringes.”

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D)

What’s at stake

Without adequate access to or means of administering a vaccine, local governments, businesses, schools and other institutions may not be able to safely reopen or stay open. This could have dire economic impact. It also means the virus will continue to spread and claim lives.

Supplies today

The Trump administration has contracted with several U.S. companies to boost the supply of syringes. Our team reviewed the list of contracts and found troubling signs: One of the major suppliers experienced delays getting parts from Thailand, and some of these companies have no experience delivering orders of this scale. Most of the companies contacted would not comment on their production progress. And no one in the federal government would confirm when they will be delivered.

As part of its strategy to administer the vaccine as quickly as possible, the Trump administration has agreed to invest more than half a billion in tax dollars in ApiJect Systems America, a young company. Its injector is not yet approved by federal health authorities.

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