20th Sep 2021

EU 'concerned' at Johnson & Johnson vaccine shortfall

  • So far, the US company has supplied the EU with only 12 million of the 55 million doses expected to be delivered by the end of June (Photo: New York National Guard)

The European Union does not expect US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to meet its goal of delivering 55 million Covid-19 vaccines in the second quarter of 2021, after manufacturing issues arose, an EU commission spokesperson said on Wednesday (16 June).

The US Food and Drug Administration said last week that several batches produced at the Baltimore-based Emergent BioSolutions factory had been contaminated with materials for another vaccine manufactured at the same site, and must be discarded. The US regulator forbade the use of some 60 million doses of the single-shot vaccine.

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Following this announcement, the European Medicine Agency (EMA) confirmed that batches of the vaccine distributed in the EU were not affected by the cross-contamination.

However, it also advised against using millions of vaccines produced by the company around the same time as a precaution. As many as 17 million doses will not allowed for use in the EU.

"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 commission spokesperson said on Wednesday, falling short of specifying how many doses the company is expected to deliver.

In total, the EU has ordered 200 million vaccines from Johnson & Johnson - of which 55 million were to be delivered by the end of June.

So far, the company has only delivered 12 million doses to EU member states. Only half of them those been administrated so far, according to EU figures.

"The member states and the commission have voiced their strong concerns regarding this shortfall," the spokesperson also said, arguing that they are working with the company to ensure "the delivery of the agreed doses overall in this and next quarters".

Despite the potential delay in supplies, the commission pointed out that the EU is on track to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by September - based on ongoing and upcoming deliveries.

Meanwhile, it is not clear if the EU will exercise the option to buy 100 million extra of the J&J vaccines, as foreseen in the contract.

Discussions between the EU commission, the company and member states are currently ongoing.

"Johnson & Johnson remains committed to supplying 200 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union, Norway and Iceland and will continue to update the European Commission and member states in a timely manner as we refine delivery timelines," J&J said in a statement.

Earlier this year, rare cases of unusual blood clotting disorders prompted authorities in Europe and the US to pause the shot's rollout for a short period - delaying the rollout of its vaccine.

Shortly after, EMA's safety committee concluded that the vaccine's benefits outweighed its risks - adding that a warning should be added to the vaccine's product information.

The EU executive previously appeared to favour the so-called mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which uses new messenger RNA technology to trigger an immune response.

EU to buy 1.8bn BioNTech jabs, in switch to mRNA vaccines

The EU has now entered into negotiations to buy 1.8 billion extra doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. "We need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Three-quarters of EU citizens support vaccines, survey finds

When asked how the EU handled the vaccination strategy among different institutions, respondents in Malta and Portugal tend to be most satisfied, while in France and Germany respondents are the least satisfied with the EU.

Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen praised the EU's vaccination roll-out as a success and announced that the EUn will donate 200 million additional doses to low-income countries - doubling its current pledge.

EU medicines agency: booster shots not urgent

The European Medicines Agency said that there is no urgent need to administer booster shots to the general population, pointing out that the priority now should be to vaccinate the one-third of Europeans who are not fully vaccinated.

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