BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries have ordered nearly 40 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, a spokesman for the EU Commission said, despite the company’s supply shortfalls in the first half of the year.
The move is a sign of confidence in the single-dose vaccine but it also shows a cautious approach as the order placed is far below what was possible under the contract.
EU nations initially ordered 200 million doses of the J&J vaccine and under the contract could buy up to another 200 million optional shots.
Some EU nations have decided to take on a first option and have ordered 36.7 million additional doses, a spokesman for the EU Commission, which coordinates the purchases, told Reuters.
He declined to say which nations activated the option and when the doses would be delivered.
Under the contract this option had to be exercised by March, but the EU negotiated an extension. Only one-third of the 100 million doses that could have been ordered under the first additional tranche have been bought.
The EU spokesman said the EU was negotiating the extension of the terms for a second option for extra doses. That option expired at the end of June.
Jonhson & Johnson confirmed the extra order for nearly 40 million doses and said talks were under way about the possible supply of further vaccines. It declined to comment on the timing of the deliveries.
The EU spokesman declined to say whether the additional doses were to be used in the countries that bought them or would be donated to poorer nations outside the EU. EU officials had told Reuters that J&J additional doses would be most likely channelled abroad.
The EU is largely relying on the jab developed by BioNTech and Pfizer to vaccinate its own population. It also wants to donate at least 100 million doses to poorer nations by the end of the year.
Johnson & Johnson was expected to deliver 55 million doses to the EU in the second quarter of this year, but fell far short of that target. EU data show that by the end of June only about 15 million vaccines were shipped to the EU, as the company faced production problems.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, Editing by William Maclean)