(Reuters) – A COVID-19 vaccine could be broadly rolled out in the United States by the middle of next year or a little later, the head of the federal government’s disease control agency said on Wednesday.

General availability of a vaccine could come by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a U.S. Congress panel.

A vaccine could be ready as soon as this November or December, Redfield said, adding that limited first doses could go to those who were most vulnerable.

“As soon as (a) vaccine gets approved or cleared, we want to be in a position to distribute it within 24 hours,” he told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

But “in order to have enough of us immunized to have immunity, I think it’s going to take six-nine months,” he added.

Several companies are in late-stage trials and have expressed optimism, but none of the vaccines are yet proven to be effective and safe.

The federal government will allocate vaccines for each state based on the critical populations recommended first for vaccination by the U.S. CDC.

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker uses a swab to test a man at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-in testing location in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Testing also is accelerating and U.S. capacity could reach 3 million per day this month, Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the same hearing.

The capacity could scale up to as high as 135 million tests a month by October, Giroir added.


Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Carl O’ Donnell in New York; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Shounak Dasgupta and Maju Samuel