China Boasts It Is Getting Rich Selling Syringes to America

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination centre in Hyde on December 17, 2020 in Manchester, England. The coronavirus drive-through vaccine centre is believed to be the first in the world. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

China’s state-run Global Times bragged Sunday that Chinese companies are making a fortune selling syringes and needles to the United States during the coronavirus pandemic, a tidal wave of imports that makes a mockery of “the U.S. government’s attempt to get rid of the Chinese supply chain.”

The Global Times quoted U.S. officials admitting in congressional testimony that 80 percent of the needles and syringes used in the United States, and about 90 percent of the supplies purchased worldwide, originate from China. Chinese officials said China’s factories produce hundreds of thousands of syringes a day.

According to Chinese government and business sources, low costs of production and labor, combined with supply chains that have not been decimated by the coronavirus as thoroughly as those in most other countries, make the Chinese syringe industry unbeatable.

“Orders have been piling up for several months, and we are expanding our production to meet the rising demand. With the new production lines to be completed in early May, our monthly capacity will be quadrupled to 40 million units,” an anonymous corporate executive told the Global Times.

Other Chinese industry sources said they have orders backed up through the summer of 2021 as coronavirus vaccinations have increased global demand for needles. They said U.S. orders began flooding in about six months ago. Heavy demand is causing syringe prices to surge, but according to the Global Times, U.S.-made syringes are still over twice as expensive as Chinese products.

The Global Times claimed in late January that Chinese manufacturers were struggling to meet the demand for needles from the U.S. and UK even after building new production facilities and quadrupling the price for their products. Several Chinese companies said the same to Reuters in early February, with warnings that the Lunar New Year holiday could hinder production.

U.S. vaccination programs are keenly interested in “low-dead space” syringes, a relatively uncommon and expensive design that minimizes the amount of fluid retained between the plunger and needle after a shot is administered. Medical technicians have discovered that using low-dead space syringes allows them to extract six doses from many vials of Pfizer’s Chinese coronavirus vaccine instead of the five doses the vials are rated for. 

American multinational firm Becton Dickinson and Co., the world’s largest single supplier of needles and syringes, agreed to produce 286 million syringes for coronavirus vaccinations, but only 40 of them were planned to be low-dead space models. The company said its capacity to produce low-dead space syringes is limited because they have been less commonly used until now, and the idea of squeezing extra doses from the Pfizer vials was not introduced until after the government’s orders were placed.


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