EU to tighten vaccine export rules in possible blow to firms backloading supplies - source

BRUSSELS, March 23 (Reuters) - The European Commission will on Wednesday extend EU powers to block COVID-19 vaccine exports to cover instances of companies backloading contracted quarterly supplies into the bloc, an EU official said.

The move, designed to avoid even limited delays in deliveries, could hit Johnson & Johnson, which has announced delays in its supplies to the EU in the second quarter, the official said, noting that all vaccine makers could be affected if they do not comply with delivery timetables.

The EU this month blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia using an export control mechanism set up at the end of January.

That mechanism can at present be activated only if companies do not comply with quarterly delivery targets set in their contracts with the EU. AstraZeneca’s export was blocked after the company announced major cuts on its deliveries for the first quarter.

With the amendments that will be adopted on Wednesday, the EU will be able to block exports even if companies respect their contract but are backloading supplies to the end of the quarter, the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by John Stonestreet)