* EU Commission to propose tighter mechanism on Weds
* Even firms meeting quarterly supply contracts may be hit
* Export block to also hit states with higher shot rates
* J&J has signaled backloaded Q2 deliveries to EU
BRUSSELS, March 23 (Reuters) – The European Commission will
on Wednesday extend EU powers to potentially block COVID-19
vaccine exports to Britain and other areas with much higher
vaccination rates, and to cover instances of companies
backloading contracted supplies, an EU official said.
The moves, which the EU official said could hit Johnson &
Johnson, are designed to avoid even limited shortfalls
in deliveries to a region whose inoculation program has been
beset by delays and supply issues.
Shipments abroad could also be withheld if vaccine-producing
countries, such as Britain and the United States, do not allow
exports to the EU, the official said, confirming comments by
Commission head Ursula von der Leyen last week.
As tensions between London and Brussels rose on Monday over
a possible export ban, Britain demanded that EU authorities
allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain did
not believe in imposing vaccine blockades. “I’m encouraged by
some of the things I’ve heard from the continent in the same
sense,” he told a news briefing.
Johnson & Johnson has announced delays in its supplies to
the EU in the second quarter, which the EU official said could
lead to consequences under the Commission amendment covering
companies backloading contracted quarterly deliveries.
All vaccine makers could potentially be affected, added the
official, who has direct knowledge of the Commission decision.
‘WE DON’T WANT THE SAME DELAYS IN Q2’
The EU this month used an existing export control mechanism,
set up at the end of January, to block a shipment of AstraZeneca
vaccine to Australia.
That mechanism can at present be activated only if companies
do not meet contracted quarterly delivery targets. The
AstraZeneca exports were blocked after the company announced
steep cuts in first quarter deliveries to the EU.
With the amendments to be adopted on Wednesday, the EU will
however be able to block exports to cover companies that respect
their quarterly contracts but backload supplies to the end of
the period, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Johnson & Johnson, which has committed to delivering 55
million doses to the EU between April and June, has said its
deliveries were likely to start in the second half of April
The company told EU officials it was facing production
issues that might make it difficult to meet its second quarter
target, but that was striving to fulfill it..
“We don’t want the same delays to happen in the second
quarter,” said the official.
Any decision to bloc an export would however need to be
taken in agreement with the EU state from where the shipment
would leave the bloc, and take into account the overall stance
of a company and of the importing state. “We will balance things
out,” the official said.
The new rules, which will take effect immediately after
publication in the EU official journal, will also tighten
controls to make sure export blocks are not circumvented using
third countries, the official said.
The U.S. administration told EU officials in March that it
would not allow any time soon the shipment to the EU of
AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the United States, EU officials
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by