The U.S. should have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for Americans to return to "regular life" by the third quarter of next year, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a Senate panel he expects vaccinations to begin in November or December, but in limited quantities with those most in need getting the first doses, such as health-care workers. He said it will take about "six to nine months" to get the entire American public vaccinated.
"If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third ... late second quarter, third quarter 2021," he told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.
The CDC later walked back Redfield's testimony after President Donald Trump criticized him at a White House press conference.
The CDC said Redfield's timeline referred to when all Americans will complete their immunizations. "He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans," CDC spokesman Paul Fulton Jr. said in an email to CNBC.
At the hearing, Redfield said the Trump administration's Covid-19 vaccine program Operation Warp Speed was unprecedented. He told lawmakers that a vaccine usually takes four to six years.
There are no approved vaccines for the coronavirus. Three drugmakers are currently in late-stage testing for potential vaccines and expect to know if they work by the end of the year.
Public health experts have previously said that most Americans likely won't get immunized with a coronavirus vaccine until the middle of next year. Whichever vaccine is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, it will likely be in short supply once it's cleared for public distribution, medical experts warn. The vaccine will likely require two doses at varying intervals, and states still face logistical challenges such as setting up distribution sites and acquiring enough needles, syringes and bottles needed for immunizations.
Earlier in the day, the CDC outlined a sweeping plan to make vaccines for Covid-19 available for free to all Americans. In the plan, the agency said it anticipates a coronavirus vaccine will initially be granted an emergency use authorization before a full formal approval.
The U.S. government plans to transport the vaccine to distribution sites across the U.S. within 24 hours after the FDA grants an emergency authorization or approval, senior administration officials told reporters Wednesday morning. The government will use medical supply company McKesson as its main distributor for the vaccine.
When larger quantities of vaccine become available, the CDC said, there will be two main objectives: to provide widespread access and to ensure a high level of immunization in target populations, particularly those who are at high risk of death or complications from Covid-19.
Americans will not be charged for the vaccine or its distribution, the CDC said. Additionally, various plans, supported by the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are under development to ensure no American will be charged out-of-pocket expenses for the administration of the vaccine, the agency said.
"The CDC's goal is to have enough Covid-19 vaccine for all in the United States who wish to be vaccinated," Redfield said on a call with journalists earlier in the day.
Earlier this month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a draft proposal for distributing a vaccine in the U.S. if and when one is approved for public use. The vaccine would be distributed in four phases, with health-care workers, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions getting vaccinated first.
Redfield told lawmakers that he has already done "microplanning" for vaccine distribution with five jurisdictions in North Dakota, Minnesota, California, Florida and Philadelphia.
"I'll be talking to state public health leaders this week, we'll be working with them so they can integrate this plan in their own unique way for their own state and there will be support to help them begin to resources plan," he said.
Even if a vaccine is ready to be distributed by the end of the year, numerous polls now suggest Americans would be hesitant to get one.
Just 42% of Americans say they would want a vaccine, according to a poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released this month, short the 60% to 80% of the population epidemiologists say is needed to achieve so-called herd immunity and suppress the virus.
The U.S., as part of Operation Warp Speed, has already invested billions of dollars in six potential vaccines as of last month, including from drug companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which have all entered phase three trials.
Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S.government may need to spend another $20 billion to ensure every American can get vaccinated.