his is an issue only with Pfizer's vaccine, not with Moderna's vaccine.By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine vials contain six doses instead of five.

“We were aware of the extra dose,” says Laura Mark, Allegheny Health Network’s pharmacy manager.

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The FDA recently approved this label change.

“We’re not always guaranteed a sixth dose,” Mark said. “We would say that, on average, we’ve given probably about 40,000 doses so far. And probably about 10 percent of those, we’ve been able to give a sixth dose.”

To squeeze the extra out of a vial, a low dead space syringe is required.

“From the plunger to the needle, there’s a little space in between,” Mark said.

That’s the dead space. Ideally, it should be as small as possible to get the sixth dose. But what if it’s too big?

“You might be able to get 5.7,” Mark said.

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And health officials can’t give a dose of only 0.7. They have to waste that bit.

“It’s very heartbreaking. We really do try and we draw them up at our clinics. … it’s a hit or miss,” Mark said.

Pfizer ships syringes with the vaccine. Sometimes the recipient gets low dead space syringes and sometimes they don’t.

“We have those on order, but they’re very tough to get,” Mark said.

The demand is greater than the supply, even though the world’s largest manufacturer stepped up production months ahead of the vaccine rollout.

At Allegheny Health Network, the staff is finding combinations of needles and syringes that mimic low dead space syringes.

“Once we find something that we like, based on experience, and we’re able to get that sixth dose, what we’re trying to do is work with our provider and our vendor to prioritize and maybe order more of those ourselves, and prioritize them to the vaccine clinic,” Mark said.

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Because of the extra dose, Pfizer can ship fewer vials even though all six doses aren’t always accessible. This is an issue only with Pfizer’s vaccine, not with Moderna’s.

Dr. Maria Simbra