By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson has cut by half expected deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union this week, an EU official told Reuters on Monday, compounding supply problems the company has faced since it began shipping doses to the bloc in April.
Under its contract with the EU, J&J has committed to shipping 55 million doses of its one-shot vaccine in the second quarter. But midway through the quarter, it had delivered less than 5 million doses, less than 10% of its target.
In addition to these initial delays, the drugmaker "is cutting deliveries this week by half," one EU official involved in talks with vaccine makers said, adding that it is not clear how many doses will be delivered next week. The official did not say how many doses were expected this week.
"We understand there is only a limited temporary reduction of deliveries which is expected to be caught up at a later stage," a spokesman for the European Commission said, declining to say how many doses short this week's delivery will be.
A spokeswoman for J&J declined to comment on this week's delay but said it remained committed to meet its overall target of delivering 200 million doses to the EU this year.
"We expect our supply to increase over time as manufacturing sites fully activate throughout the year," she added, noting that producing vaccines involves complex manufacturing processes.
"We are working around the clock to develop and broadly activate our manufacturing capabilities to supply our COVID-19 vaccine worldwide," she said.
Both the EU source and the spokesman said the company was still aiming to deliver the contracted 55 million doses by the end of June.
J&J has faced production problems in the United States. The EU official said doses meant for the EU were produced both in the United States and in a factory in Leiden, in the Netherlands.
The Baltimore plant that was producing raw material for J&J's vaccine in the United States is offline after an inspection by U.S. regulators found numerous problems following contamination of a batch that ruined millions of doses.
J&J said that at full speed 10 manufacturing sites in different continents would be added to the company's factory in Leiden to meet supply commitments.
The official said J&J had not yet provided a clear schedule for its deliveries through the end of the second quarter.
The company had initially planned to begin delivering doses to the EU from April 1, but delayed the start of shipments to mid-April over production issues.
Deliveries were then interrupted just as they began over safety concerns, after use of the vaccine was temporarily paused in the United States to assess possible links with rare but serious blood clots. Deliveries resumed in Europe about a week later.
As of Monday, the company has delivered 2.6 million doses to European countries, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show.
The European Commission, which has more up to date information on deliveries, confirmed that supplies have so far been below 5 million doses.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Bill Berkrot)