ATLANTA — A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready soon in limited quantities, according to one of the nation's top health officials.

United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar made a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday to give an updated timeline on a coronavirus vaccine — which he said will likely be available by the end of the year.

The news comes after mounting criticism that the president’s administration has undermined the efforts of the Centers of Disease Control to curb coronavirus but Azar and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, announced the new vaccine timeline with an optimistic outlook.

"I know it's been a difficult year for Americans. But we are going to come through this on the other side,” Redfield said. "I'm also optimistic that we'll have a limited supply of one or more COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution before the end of this year. But we're not quite there yet.”

Azar gave a more detailed idea of the vaccine distribution which would go to vulnerable individuals — older Americans and those at high-risk of severe outcomes to COVID-19 — and health care workers.

“We expect that we would have, by the end of this year, enough vaccine that is FDA-authorized to be able to vaccinate all of the most vulnerable individuals,” the Trump health official said. “Then by the end of January, we expect we'd have enough to vaccinate all seniors, as well as our health care workers and first responders — and by the end of March to early April, enough to vaccinate for all Americans who would want to take a vaccine."

But the news comes as cases are trending upward. Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases, said they are monitoring a “distressing trend” of COVID-19 cases increasing in nearly 75% of the country.

“Today, we've confirmed over 8.1 million cases and sadly, over 220,000 deaths since January. I know these are numbers, but these are also people,” he said. “...The past week, we've seen nearly 60,000 cases a day on average as well as 100 deaths.”

Health officials have another challenge aside from giving the go-ahead to an approved vaccine: convincing weary Americans to take it.

Azar said there are multiple checks and balances in the process of a vaccine being approved and pointed to the fact that three clinical trials have already been put on hold due to safety concerns.

“The American people should feel very reassured on a process that was established here,” he said. “There are five independent checks around vaccine regulation.”

Azar touted the work being done at the CDC in an effort to boost confidence in the relationship between the health agency and President Donald Trump’s administration. The president himself has bucked the CDC’s safety guidelines by hosting large rallies and has spoken out against its recommendations on social media.

The CDC is “the premier epidemiological organization on the face of the planet,”Azar said, but followed quickly by saying the health agency isn’t the only agency at play during the pandemic.

“We respect CDC's science- and evidence-based conclusions. What comes out of CDC, at the end of the day, is Dr. Redfield's conclusions around science and evidence to support this team. That's how we operate and that's how we're going to keep operating."

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