The European Union authorized use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Thursday, amid mounting frustration with a sluggish inoculation campaign that has been hobbled by supply shocks and logistics failures, and with global wars over scarce doses ratcheting up.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, issued the authorization a few hours after the 27-member bloc’s main drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, approved the vaccine for use in people 18 and up.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored in regular fridges for up to three months and only requires one shot, is the fourth to be approved by the regulatory agency. Three more vaccines, Novavax, CureVac and Sputnik V, are undergoing a rolling review, a preliminary step that could lead to approval.
The decision on Thursday opens the door for the delivery of 200 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the European Union, under a contract that includes an option for 200 million more.
Those supplies could help speed up the bloc’s vaccination efforts, which have gotten off to a sluggish start. So far, only 6.5 percent of the European Union’s 450 million residents have been inoculated, far behind the rates in Britain, Israel or the United States.
But the first deliveries of Johnson & Johnson vaccine are not expected in Europe before April.
The bloc also said on Thursday that it would extend for another three months, to the end of June, a mechanism that permits member states to prevent the export of vaccines made within the bloc’s borders if the manufacturers have not filled all their orders at home.
Data published Wednesday by The New York Times showed that the European Union has been exporting millions of vaccine doses, even as member nations’ efforts to vaccinate their own citizens have been slowed by shortages and other problems.
The bloc has come under fierce criticism over the mechanism to restrict exports. Accusations of “vaccine nationalism” intensified last week when Italy used the mechanism to block a shipment of doses bound for Australia.
Since the mechanism was put in place in February, officials have approved 249 export permits, covering more than 34 million doses bound for 31 different countries. They were approved “because they did not threaten the contractual arrangement between the E.U. and the vaccine producers,” said Miriam García Ferrer, a spokeswoman for the European Commission. “Only one export has been refused,” she added.