The mass roll-out of the vaccine against COVID-19 should be completed in Ireland by August, the CEO of the HSE has said.
Paul Reid said the mass vaccination of the population should conclude by the summer, but added that the inoculation programme will depend on the delivery schedule of the jab into the country.
It comes as 79-year-old Dublin grandmother Annie Lynch became the first person in the Republic to get the coronavirus vaccine today.
Annie said she felt "very privileged" to receive the vaccine and that "there is a bit of hope" in Ireland now.
Mr Reid said today was "inspirational" and "emotional" and has given the country "a bit of light and a lift".
He told The Hard Shoulder that Annie's story is "fantastic" and it was "a lovely moment" to see the grandmother of ten from Drimnagh receiving the vaccine.
She was joined by Bernie Waterhouse, a Clinical Nurse Manager working in a designated COVID-19 ward in St James' Hospital, who is the first healthcare worker in Ireland to get the jab.
Mr Reid added that this was also a "momentous and inspirational moment", with vaccinations also taking place at Beaumont Hospital and University Hospitals Cork and Galway today.
He said: "Over 2,000 people will be vaccinated over the coming days.
"It's a tough time at the moment in terms of where the virus is at but at least now people can see a bit of light in what has been a very tough year.
Mr Reid also confirmed that a batch of 30,000 vaccines had been received from Pfizer/BioNTech this afternoon.
Next week, the vaccinations will begin in nursing homes followed by a "pretty aggressive schedule" from the week beginning January 11th across 580 nursing homes over a three-week period.
Bernie Waterhouse is a CNM working in a COVID-19 ward in @stjamesdublin and is the first healthcare worker in Ireland to get the #CovidVaccine. She said “I wanted to get the vaccine to protect myself, and the people I work with and care for every day, from COVID-19.” pic.twitter.com/NoiY4zlx4d
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) December 29, 2020
Responding to criticism that the roll-out in Ireland had been slower than other EU countries, Mr Reid said he "totally understands the public perspective to get going" with the inoculation programme swiftly.
However, safety protocols and "complex" consent process needed to be worked through in recent days before the vaccines could begin, he added.
Mr Reid said: "Once we confirm delivery, we are still expecting around 40,000 deliveries per week of the Pfizer/BioNTech supply.
"Whatever schedule of delivery we get...we will be planning to deploy that delivery schedule in a sequence basis as agreed by Government."
He explained that if 40,000 vaccines arrive in a week in mid-January then the HSE would aim to vaccinate 40,000 people.
Today, a great beacon of light starts to shine, as we commence our vaccination programme. Let's all galvanise and unite behind this. It will take time but stay positive, stay safe, stick with us and we will get there. @HSELive #COVID19
— Paul Reid (@paulreiddublin) December 29, 2020
He added that completion of the mass vaccination of the population is still somewhat of an "unknown" and depends on the delivery of other vaccines from Moderna or AstraZeneca.
Mr Reid said: "In realistic terms, when we get through the long term care facilities and when we get through healthcare staff, we then start moving to a much bigger mobilisation and a wider population.
"Realistically that is up to summer when we're into a mass vaccination roll-out."
He said that the HSE is looking to August as a time when most people seeking a COVID-19 vaccine will have received one.
The HSE CEO added that he expects today's coronavirus case figures to be double what they were yesterday.
765 cases were confirmed last night, with the 14-day incidence rate hitting 220 per 100,000.
The average number of close contacts per confirmed case has risen to six.
Mr Reid said some people have as many as 30 close contacts, with contact tracing calls rising to more than 45,000 last week.