* J&J had committed to delivering 55m doses to EU by end of June
* EU worried by shortfall, but on track to meet vaccination goals
* EU refuses to use 17 million doses over safety concerns
* European regulator says discarded doses might be exported (adds EMA’s new comment)
BRUSSELS, June 16 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson is expected to miss its COVID-19 vaccine supply target to the European Union for the second quarter after millions of doses were banned for use in Europe over safety concerns, an EU Commission spokesman said.
The setback could cause new delays to the bloc’s vaccination drive, although the EU is relying mostly on the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to inoculate its population. More than half of adults in the EU have received at least one shot.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week said J&J doses sent to Europe from an Emergent factory in the United States would not be used as a precaution after a case of contamination with substances used for AstraZeneca shots, which are also manufactured in that factory.
EMA said in a statement to Reuters that 17 million doses had been banned from use in the bloc after that decision.
“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,” Stefan De Keersmaecker, the EU commission spokesman on health, said on Wednesday.
The EU has ordered a total of 200 million doses from J&J, of which 55 million were to be delivered by the end of June. The company has so far delivered around 12 million shots of its single-dose vaccine, of which only about half have been administered, EU figures show.
The spokesman declined to say how many doses J&J was now expected to deliver by the end of June.
“The member states and the Commission have voiced their strong concerns regarding this shortfall,” he told a news conference, adding that the EU continued to work with the company “towards the delivery of the agreed doses overall in this and following quarters”.
Despite the possible delays that this may cause, the spokesman said the EU remained on track to meet its target of immunising 70% of its adult population this summer.
“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.
EU regulators have prevented the use in Europe of the 17 million potentially contaminated J&J doses but this does not necessarily mean their export is forbidden.
After having vaccinated large parts of their populations, wealthy nations are pledging to boost inoculations in poorer states, where new highly contagious variants could develop more easily if the virus is allowed to circulate freely.
EMA said it was not within its remit to order J&J to dispose of its potentially compromised vaccines.
But in a recommendation to the drugmaker, EMA made clear that if J&J decided to redirect the discarded doses to other markets, it “must be transparent with potential buyers about the underlying quality issues,” EMA said in a statement on Wednesday.
J&J said that “out of an abundance of caution, the company will not release specific batches of its COVID-19 vaccine produced with drug substance manufactured by Emergent BioSolutions”.
However, the company declined to comment on whether this decision will also cover the doses blocked in the EU. The U.S regulator has forbidden the use in the United States of tens of millions of J&J doses because of the same safety concerns.
At a global health summit in May, J&J said it would deliver 200 million doses to COVAX, the programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute vaccines globally, which has so for delivered only about 90 million vaccines of the 2 billion planned this year. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Barbara Lewis)