BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission is seeking clarification from Johnson & Johnson about the company’s “completely unexpected” announcement of delays in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the EU, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday.
The U.S. company said it would delay rolling out the vaccine in Europe after U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing the use of the vaccine following cases of rare blood clots in six women under 50 after they were given it.
Despite the U.S. decision, Belgium said it would not stop its rollout at this stage, while the Dutch drug regulator said benefits of the J&J vaccine outweighed possible risks, and Spain said it was not aware of any delay.
The official said the news was unexpected because the company had confirmed at a meeting on Friday that it would aim to deliver 55 million doses to the European Union as contracted by the end of June. At that time, suspicious blood clots were already under investigation.
“The European Commission is in contact with the company” to get clarification on the delay decision, the official added, declining to be named.
A Commission spokesman confirmed later on Tuesday the EU executive was discussing the matter with J&J but declined to elaborate.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the EU drugs regulator was monitoring the safety of the vaccine, and noted that the rollout was paused by the company.
J&J, which began the rollout of its vaccine in Europe on Monday, did not reply to questions on whether the delay could affect delivery targets in the EU..
U.S. authorities said the review would take only a few days but the delay fed into broader concerns in the EU about vaccine supplies.
“This is worrying news – sounds like it may end up the same way as AstraZeneca,” an EU diplomat said, referring to the Anglo-Swedish company which announced delays just before the start of its EU rollout in February.
AstraZeneca has cut supplies to the bloc to 100 million doses by the end of June from the 300 million foreseen under its supply contract, causing a dispute with the EU which remains unresolved.
The European Medicines Agency said on Friday it was assessing the rare blood clotting cases that emerged in the United States. On Tuesday it reiterated that any causal link was not yet clear.
In March, Reuters reported that J&J had informed EU officials it might face difficulties in meeting its delivery targets for the second quarter. It delayed the start of the rollout in Europe from an originally planned April 1.
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