WINNIPEG — Shared Health and the province are scrambling to secure a crucial tool needed to perform COVID-19 tests.
There is currently a shortage of pipette tips, which is a small piece of plastic that helps with the process of going through COVID-19 tests.
“Like many other Canadian labs, we are facing a shortage of pipette tips to complete COVID-19 testing due to a shortage in global supply,” a spokesperson for Shared Health said in an email to CTV News.
The spokesperson added they have “secured alternate suppliers” and are currently looking for more supplies to make sure there are no service impacts.
Due to this shortage, a call for help was put out by Dr. Philippe Lagace-Wiens, who is a medical microbiologist with Shared Health and also a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease at the University of Manitoba.
He reached out to fellow colleagues at the U of M to see if they could offer up supplies until a new shipment came in.
“Some of our facilities will run out of supplies this weekend,” said Lagace-Wiens in a letter sent out on Wednesday.
Shared Health is currently looking for two different kinds of pipette tips; Filtered 200mL tips and Filtered 1000mL tips.
One person at the U of M who has stepped up is Dr. Jeffrey Marcus.
Marcus is a professor of biological sciences at the university and said when the call for help went out, he right away started looking for the tips.
“Understanding that there was only a three or four day supply of these pipette tips meant that, yesterday when I first heard, I really dropped everything, I raced down to the university to see what I had, and then to communicate with as many people as I could,” said Marcus.
He said out of his own supplies, he donated between 5,000 to 6,000 pipette tips and he said that number was probably doubled in what was sent from his facility.
Marcus said this is the first time he has heard of this shortage happening in Manitoba and he said there are two factors for it happening.
The first being that this is a must-have for everyone throughout the world to perform COVID-19 tests and the tips can be hard to get due to shutdowns and supply chain issues.
“But then I think there’s also the issue that nobody anticipated that we would have the kind of spike in cases and the spike in the number of people being tested.”
Marcus said for each test, two pipettes are needed, a small one and a larger one. Every time a test is done, the pipettes must be thrown out to avoid cross-contamination, so he noted when thousands of tests are being done every day, the supplies can be burned through rather quickly.
There is some good news now, as Marcus said with the donations from himself and others throughout the province, Shared Health should have enough pipette tips to last until the next shipment arrives.
But he did caution if shortages continue, it could lead to a serious problem.
“I hope they are putting in their orders for ever-larger quantities of these things, because while we can raid our cupboards any number of times, there is a finite amount of these filtered tips that we happen to have on hand in all the laboratories and basic research area in Manitoba, and at some point, we are going to run out too.”
EXPLAINING WHAT A PIPETTE TIP IS
A pipette tip is not something everyday people would use but they are extremely important for laboratory purposes.
Marcus said they are attached to a larger device to help measure out small amounts of droplets that are transferred from one test tube to another to perform a specific test, comparing them to measuring cups that someone would use to measure ingredients to make cookies.
“It allows you to measure the volume of those droplets very, very carefully, so you can essentially mix together the precise combination of substances in the exact quantity that you need for a successful test.”
He said the filtered tips are only able to be used once, and once a liquid touches the filter, it is no longer any good for a second test.
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