EU officials ‘expecting vaccine shortage for 3 months’ ‒ but still lash out at J&J

Johnson & Johnson: EMA says benefit-risk ‘remains positive’

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Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the developer of a single-shot Covid vaccine, has left EU officials “concerned” after confirming it would not be able to make its delivery targets for the bloc once again. This latest announcement followed confirmation from the European Medicines Agency last week that a large shipment of J&J vaccines coming from the US would not be used. They were found to be contaminated with ingredients used for the AstraZeneca jabs, as both vaccines are produced at the same plant.

An EU Commission spokesman said: “Following the non-release of these batches, the company is not expected to be in a position to deliver 55 million doses by the end of this quarter.”

The EU was expecting 55 million vaccines — out of the 200 million ordered — to be delivered by the end of this month.

Instead, just 12 million shots have been delivered and only half of these have been administered.

An EU spokesman said: “The member states and the Commission have voiced their strong concerns regarding this shortfall.”

However, he said the EU would continue to work with J&J towards the delivery of the agreed quantity of vaccines “in this and following quarters”.

The bloc’s frustration and “concern” over the delayed jab doses comes as a surprise after J&J officials warned the bloc it would not be able to meet its delivery commitments three months ago, in March — even before the contamination issue became apparent.

Reuters reported that the developers had admitted it was unlikely to deliver 55 million doses by the second quarter of the year, after an anonymous EU official who was involved in the confidential talks with the developer spoke to the news outlet.

J&J had allegedly told the bloc that issues with the supply of vaccine ingredients as well as equipment meant it was “under stress” to meet the target.

However, the official claimed the company said it was not entirely impossible to meet the goal, while expressing caution.

The official told Reuters: “We don’t really know how much to expect.”

J&J refused to publicly comment on potential delays at the time.

Instead, it released a statement which read: “Aligned with our agreement, we expect to begin supplying our commitment of 200 million doses to the EU in the second quarter of 2021.”

The European Commission spokesman also refused to comment on the developers’ delivery schedule.

J&J’s initial concerns over its production line were then amplified in April, when US federal health agencies recommended pausing the vaccine rollout over fears of blood clots.

But, even then, an EU official told Reuters that the new announcement of J&J delays were “completely unexpected”.

The bloc said it was seeking confirmation over the confusion, because the company had promised it was still aiming for 55 million just days before, when the investigation into blood clots was already under way.

At the time, an EU diplomat said: “This is worrying news — sounds like it may end up the same way as AstraZeneca.”

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The EU has faced an onslaught of criticism throughout the pandemic due to its sluggish vaccine rollout.

It locked horns with UK supplier, AstraZeneca, after the company failed to reach its delivery promises earlier this year — it cut its promised supply of 90 million to 40 million.

It also told the bloc that its second-quarter supplies would be halved too, leading the Commission to launch legal action against the developer for not honouring its contract.

AstraZeneca also came under scrutiny for blood clot concerns, meaning the vaccine is now used for those in older age brackets.

The EU Commission has since announced it will not renew its contract with AstraZeneca when it expires this month, but did not rule out a potential renewal at a later date.

It has made the same decision with J&J, even though its single-shot vaccine is in high demand because it is easy to administer and can be stored in a refrigerator.

While Pfizer and Moderna, vaccines which focus on mRNA techniques to provide protection against the virus, also experienced delivery delays, they managed to keep to their targets for the first quarter of this year.

Brussels was in talks for a new contract of 1.8 billion doses from Pfizer back in April, according to reports.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, explained: “We need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth.

“mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point.”

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