The Food and Drug Administration FDA said Wednesday vials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine might contain up to 40% more doses than originally thought, meaning medical officials could potentially use the limited supplies on hand to inoculate many more people against the coronavirus.
Politico first reported the news as thousands of Americans around the U.S. began receiving the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, a landmark step in the fight against the ongoing pandemic that has already infected millions. The treatment vials are manufactured to hold five doses, but some may have enough additional vaccine for a sixth or seventh dose.
“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,” a spokesperson for the FDA said. “However, since the vials are preservative-free, it is critical to note that any further remaining product that does not constitute a full dose should not be pooled from multiple vials to create one.”
Pfizer confirmed it was aware of reports the vials had extra doses in them but stressed each additional dose must meet a minimum level before it could be administered.
“At this time, we cannot provide a recommendation on the use of the remaining amount of vaccine from each vial,” the company said. “Vaccinators need to consult their institution’s policies for the use of multidose vials.”
The news comes amid a bleak period in the fight against COVID-19. More than 16 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus, and more than 300,000 have now died.
Medical officials began vaccinating scores of health care officials on the front lines of the pandemic this week, as well as millions of older adults in long-term care facilities.
A second vaccine, made by Moderna, was deemed by the FDA to be highly effective at preventing the coronavirus and could receive emergency use authorization as soon as Friday. Six million doses of that vaccine would be sent out in the days after.
The New York Times reports that at least 40 million doses of the two vaccines should be available by the end of the year, with much more coming in 2021. That figure is only enough for 20 million Americans, as each vaccine requires two injections to work.