U.S. hospitals have made a surprising discovery in recent days that many hail Hanukkah as a miracle. Some vials of the valuable Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine contained more than five doses than expected, sometimes enough for seven people.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday confirmed that some of the vials may be overused and advised health professionals to use all possible doses “because of a public health emergency.”
The agency said it was communicating with Pfizer on the matter, but advised health officials not to collect doses from multiple vials.
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The New York Times reported that in some cases, nurses were able to withdraw seven full doses from each bottle, giving hope that the limited supply of vaccines could become available to even more people.
Pfizer has so far produced enough vaccines for about 12.5 million people, with the first shots being given to cutting-edge healthcare workers.
The news quickly sparked comparisons on social media with the Hanukkah miracle, where a small jug of olive oil that should have burned for just one night to light the Menorah temple lasted for eight nights.
Wednesday was the seventh night of Hanukkah.
Now * this * is a proper Hanukkah miracle! https://t.co/8MYKBbsQBr
– Dr. Laika the Space Dog (@MMendlowPhD) December 17, 2020
The FDA’s clarification came amid reports that some pharmacists had disposed of the remaining vaccine for fear of violating agency rules.
Meanwhile, the United States has sought to obtain an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer vaccine.
U.S. officials said Wednesday they are actively negotiating a further purchase of Pfizer’s vaccine after being given a chance to sign a contract in the summer as it was still unclear how well the shots would work.
Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Moncef Slaoui, special adviser, were also told reporters that Pfizer was unable to commit to a firm delivery deadline. Azar called this “the fundamental issue”.
There was no immediate comment from the company, whose CEO Albert Bourla told CNN this week that he was “very cooperating” with the government to deliver additional vaccines through the Warp Speed federal operation. This is a White House-sponsored, taxpayer-funded effort to rapidly develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
The Trump administration has received sharp criticism from Congressional Democrats after news leaked last week about the missed opportunity to get more vaccines.
“We are concerned that a lack of adequate vaccine supplies will unnecessarily prolong the COVID-19 epidemic in this country, causing further loss of life and economic devastation,” a group of senators led by Patty Murray in Washington and Ron Wyden in Oregon. wrote the HHS. “We fear this is another case where the failure of the Trump administration to develop a comprehensive national vaccination plan in a timely manner could jeopardize the vaccination of humans and ultimately the end of this epidemic.”
Azar on Wednesday wanted to refute that concern, saying pending contracts with a number of manufacturers will provide enough vaccination for all Americans by mid-next year. Moderna’s second vaccine appears to be moving toward approval by the Food and Drug Administration within days, with more vaccine candidates advancing in clinical trials.
But Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech first fell into the arms of Americans and raised hopes of taming an epidemic that killed more than 300,000 people in the United States and shook much of the national economy. Health workers and residents of nursing homes are leading the list, as scenes of the first vaccinations are broadcast by local TV stations across the country. Some polls show that skeptics about the vaccine may be relieved.
After the early failures of testing, Trump administration officials hope they will write a completely different end to the vaccinations. Operation Warp Speed has funded the development, manufacture, and distribution of millions of doses with the goal of providing free vaccinations to all Americans who want to.
Pfizer was not as closely associated with the Warp Speed operation as other manufacturers, preferring to maintain control over its own development and production. But the government has indeed contracted to buy 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first of which was delivered this week.
The issue is to purchase an additional 100 million doses for delivery as early as mid-next year.
“We are in active negotiations,” Azar said.
Slaoui, the world-renowned vaccine scientist who is helping lead the federal effort, said the goal throughout was to develop more promising vaccines and taxpayers to take the financial risk if one vaccine fails to get FDA approval.
“We’ve built a vaccine portfolio so that one at least reaches its destination,” he said.
Even in the summer, “it wouldn’t make sense to pre-order more from a manufacturer before we know how the vaccine works”.
Although the initial signs were positive for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a full review by the FDA took place only earlier this month.
Slaoui and Azar also said that due to Operation Warp Speed’s normal relationship with Pfizer, officials had fewer windows to the company’s production and any problems that might arise.
“Of course, we would be happy to receive an additional 100 million doses,” Slaoui said, adding that he expects the talks with Pfizer to be successful.
The release of at least one other vaccine is awaiting approval, and there is already talk of a surplus that could be sent to the rest of the world.