Ireland's limited supply of Covid-19 vaccines - the key weapon for escaping the worst of the pandemic - could be boosted early next month as the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab may be approved earlier than expected.
But it will be next summer before millions more inoculations will be available for the wider population.
The green light for the vaccine would mean three supplies are available to administer to older residents and staff of long-term care and frontline healthcare workers by February.
The HSE is promised more than 40,000 doses a week from Pfizer/BioNTech over January and February while 4,000 doses of the Moderna jab are due next week.
The possible arrival of vaccines from Oxford/AstraZeneca - regarded as a "game changer" by health officials because it is easy to store - could speed up the rollout.
It will make it easier for GPs and pharmacists to be brought on stream to administer vaccines to the wider community, said Professor Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.
Non-healthcare professionals, once trained, could also be called upon to administer the vaccine as the programme ramps up, she added.
"The logistics will be simplified with this vaccine," Prof Butler told the Herald.
"It will be hugely beneficial to the system, not only because there are large quantities scheduled to come in but because of the handling characteristics.
"It will be suitable for administration in GP offices and pharmacies and for administration in large centres that will be set up."
"That doesn't mean that GPs might not come on board sooner.
"But in terms of doing this in their own surgeries, with their own patients, this is much more suitable.
"The handling characteristics will be much easier."
Health officials insisted yesterday they are stepping up the administration of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab to long-term care facilities and frontline healthcare staff with 35,000 expected to have been immunised by tomorrow.
More than 180 long-term care facilities will be offered the vaccine next week and the plan is to have all residents and staff given a first dose in the next 16 days.
The HSE plans to hold a week's supply in reserve and all other doses will be administered. However, opposition politicians who were briefed by task force chairman Prof Brian MacGraith and health officials yesterday said the plans are still too vague.
There are around 2,000 vaccinators including staff who deliver jabs in schools and trained hospital staff.
Talks are also under way with the Army to use some of its medics as the campaign broadens. Work has also begun to finalise where mass immunisation sites will be around the country.
Later this year, Ireland can also expect a further three million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine following a new deal reached with the European Commission yesterday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that along with the Moderna vaccine also authorised for use in the EU, "we have already secured an amount of doses that we need to vaccinate 380 million Europeans, and this is more than 80pc of the European population".
Meanwhile, a new study indicated that the effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will not be affected by the two more infectious virus strains from the UK and South Africa, both of which are currently circulating here.