UPDATE 1-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shots may arrive in Canada before end March -minister
Adds Canadian officials on vaccine rollout
TORONTO/OTTAWA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Deliveries of AstraZeneca Plc's AZN.L COVID-19 vaccine to Canada could begin before the end of March, if the country's health regulator approves its use, federal procurement minister Anita Anand said on Thursday.
AstraZeneca Canada filed a rolling application for its vaccine with Health Canada in October and is waiting for approval from the drug regulator. Health Canada is expected to complete its review soon.
"Should the vaccine be authorized, deliveries could begin arriving before the end of March," Anand told a parliamentary committee.
In a separate briefing, federal officials confirmed Canada's most recent shipment of Moderna Inc's MRNA.O COVID-19 vaccine contained 22% fewer doses than originally expected and said the next shipment, due in three weeks, would also be short.
"They haven't shared the specifics of the challenges," said Major General Dany Fortin, who is leading the federal government's inoculation campaign. "They remain committed to providing us two million doses by the end of March."
Fortin added Moderna was working in "good faith" to deliver those doses as quickly as possible to Canada and noted the obstacles would be temporary.
Shipments of Pfizer Inc's PFE.N vaccine, meanwhile, are expected to ramp up later this month. Canada continues to expect 20 million combined doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the April to June timeframe, Fortin said.
The approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine would buoy that.
"This is a long-game," Fortin said.
Tensions have been growing over the slow rollout of Canada's vaccination program, caused in part by Pfizer cutting its promised deliveries and now the temporary slowdown of Moderna doses. nL1N2K321X
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is also facing criticism over tapping into COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative meant to help low-income countries buy doses. Canada will get 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses from the initiative.
"Our government will never apologize for doing everything possible to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible," Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told lawmakers later on Thursday, adding Canada continues to support global efforts.
"We've been clear from the start, no one will be safe until everyone is," said Freeland.
(Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Julie Gordon in Ottawa. Editing by Mark Potter)