Federal officials are confident that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready to distribute by the end of this year just days after announcing a major program that would provide the medication for long-term care facilities at no cost. 

“I’m … optimistic that we’ll have a limited supply of one or more COVID vaccines available for distribution before the end of this year, but we’re not quite there yet,” Robert Redfield, M.D., director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a press conference Wednesday at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta. 

Redfield, along with other federal health officials, discussed the progress of the administration’s COVID-19 response and Operation Warp Speed vaccine initiative. 

CDC Deputy Director for Infectious Disease Jay Butler, M.D., added that while officials are cautiously optimistic about having a vaccine by the end of 2020, it will likely be available only in limited quantities. 

“When the supply of vaccines is limited, our efforts to vaccinate may need to focus on those who are at highest risks of severe disease as well as those critical to the response, including those who provide care to the people in the healthcare system,” Butler explained. 

“People at risk include those at long-term care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as independent living facilities,” he added. 

Late last week, federal health agencies announced the program following an agreement with pharmacy retailers CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccines free of charge to facilities once one or more are approved. Sign ups for providers to opt into the program started Monday.

“The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program provides end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process, including getting vaccines to facilities, it provides for on-site vaccinations and fulfillment of all reporting requirements,” Butler said. 

Butler also noted that the fact that the companies have a “combined national footprint will allow most facilities nationwide to opt into this program.” 

“Preparing for implementing a successful COVID-19 vaccine program is a crucial next step as part of our overall effort to protect Americans, reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to restore more normalcy to our lives in our country,” he said.