No decision made yet on future contracts with AZ, J&J, French minister says

PARIS (Reuters) – No decision has been made yet on whether the European Union should sign new contracts for COVID-19 vaccines with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, a French junior industry minister said on Friday.

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“The decision has not been made,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher told BFM television. “But we have not initiated discussions with AZ and J&J for a new contract.”

She said it was unlikely the EU would sign new contracts with the two companies. Both vaccines are based on a viral vector technology, a method to make vaccines which is now under investigation for rare, serious side-effects on people who got shots against COVID-19.

It is unclear whether the EU will exercise its options to order more doses from the two companies under existing contracts.

Under the current deals, EU states could buy another 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in addition to 300 million shots already ordered. They could also use the option to double the supply of Johnson & Johnson shots to 400 million.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported earlier that the EU was set to end the contracts when they expire at the end of this year.

The EU has already exercised options for more doses under the first contracts signed with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. After that, it also signed a second contract with both companies, which make vaccines based on mRNA technology.

The EU is also now negotiating a third contract with Pfizer-BioNTech for new deliveries from 2022.

“We need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth — mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, said on Wednesday.

A Commission spokesman said the EU was keeping all options open for future contracts and has not ruled out any vaccine technology.

U.S. health agencies earlier this week recommended pausing the use of the J&J shot after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving it, in a fresh setback to efforts to tackle the pandemic. J&J also said it would delay rollout of the vaccine to Europe.

The halt follows restrictions imposed by many European countries on using an alternative vaccine from AstraZeneca in response to similar reports of blood clotting among a small number of recipients.

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