The Taoiseach has said the rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will begin in the week after its expected approval by the European Medicines Agency.
The EMA is expected to give its decision on 29 December and Micheál Martin said once that happens he hopes that in the following week that the rollout will begin, starting with nursing home residents and healthcare staff.
However, he warned that "'we cannot let down our guard down" on Covid-19 because a vaccine is on the horizon, and that further restrictions may be introduced in January.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Martin said the vaccine is a complementary tool to other public health measures and "will add significantly to our armoury in putting pressure on this virus".
He said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has to be carefully handled and the Government will tomorrow announce plans on how it will be administered.
He said public health teams and doctors will be involved, along with GPs and pharmacists, who, he said, will all be consulted about their involvement.
Asked how soon #Covid19 vaccines will be given to vulnerable people in Ireland, Taoiseach @MichealMartinTD says vaccinations will begin within days of approval. The first vaccine may be approved on 29 December. Initial volumes will be low. The "optimal period" will be May-June. pic.twitter.com/MhUTtaA5d3— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 14, 2020
Mr Martin said that January and February will see a limited volume of vaccines available, but enough for the most vulnerable groups.
The bigger volumes will come in March, April and May as other vaccines come on stream and other vaccine manufacturing ramps up around the world, he said.
He said that people need to be aware that the optimal period for a vaccination programme will be May and June when things open up and that this staged timeline approach depends on the availability and manufacturing of the vaccine.
Mr Martin also said he is concerned about the spike in cases seen yesterday as the virus can grow exponentially and people need to be very careful about all contacts in the run-up to Christmas.
Asked if we should expect a lockdown in January as #Covid19 cases rise, Taoiseach @MichealMartinTD tells RTÉ's @MorningIreland "you could very well be looking at some further restrictions in January". He says the Government will look at the data before making decisions. pic.twitter.com/dFb0gwSjuZ— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 14, 2020
There were 429 new cases announced yesterday, 122 of them in Dublin.
One further death was also notified to the Department of Health, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,124 with 76,185 confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn has said "it's reasonable to expect that it's going to take at least the first half of next year to roll out a significant volume of these vaccines".
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Dr Glynn said "people can be rightly be hopeful that we can return to a very high level of normality come next Summer, but it's simply too early to be sure about that yet".
"We need to see how things play out over the next couple of months in particular… to see exactly what the European Medicines Agency says about these vaccines.
"They haven't been authorised yet and I think it's important that while there has been real speed in getting us to this point" he said.
"It's important that we take our time over the next few weeks, ensure that they're authorised, ensure that we have all information and I'm sure the Strategy the Government publishes this week will set out the answers to many of the questions around the timeline."
He said while the people who get this vaccine in January and February will have an individual benefit from that, "it's important to understand that the public health benefit of vaccines, the population benefit of vaccines that will not kick in for a number of months".
He said people will need to continue to follow the public health guidelines for the coming months to prevent exposure to the virus.
"We have to be realistic" - Deputy CMO Dr @ronan_glynn says we shouldn't expect vaccines to lead to a major change of what we have to do to stop the spread of #Covid19 for at least six months, and addresses some of the concerns people may have about the vaccines pic.twitter.com/E1aPgqLxMa— RTÉ News (@rtenews) December 14, 2020
Dr Glynn again urged people to keep their contacts as low as possible.
He also moved to reassure people over the speed at which vaccines for Covid-19 have been developed.
Following a statement released by him yesterday, Dr Glynn explained that it is understandable that people would have questions and concerns about the quick delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr Glynn said the shorter timeline was due to research and scientific endeavour alongside global investment "on a scale never seen before" in relation to vaccines.
He said the effectiveness of the vaccines was easier to test as the virus was so widespread in so many countries.He said that the manufacturing process also began in parallel with the phase three trials, so that it would be on the ground and ready to deploy in some numbers if approved.
Dr Glynn urged people to get information from the right sources including gov.ie and the HSE website and more specifically from GPs and healthcare professionals, including pharmacists.
He said research shows that 4 out of 5 people are very "well-disposed to getting the vaccine" and that "the rumour and misinformation" by the anti- vaccine movement only represents a small number of people who have already decided they will not get this vaccine or any other vaccine.
He said that the "primary end point" for the Covid-19 vaccines is the prevention of clinical disease in individuals.
A vaccine will not have any positive impact on #COVID19 for months to come.— Dr Ronan Glynn (@ronan_glynn) December 14, 2020
We must continue to #holdfirm; to paraphrase @DrMikeRyan, we need to continue to do all we can to save lives now, not the lives we promise to save next year.
Let's see this through together.
Dr Glynn's statement came as Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned he was concerned that the incidence of Covid-19 was rising again.
Dr Holohan said now was the time for people to reduce their social contacts "so we can all have as safe a Christmas as possible".
Additional reporting Orla O'Donnell