FILE - Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks about protecting seniors, in the East Room of the White House, on Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington.

(The Center Square) – About 20 million Americans could receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of December, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday at a roundtable with Vice President Mike Pence and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in Memphis.

“With cases rising across the country, we are still going through a challenging time,” Pence said. “Help is on the way. We are just days away from being able to distribute a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.”

Azar touted the Trump administration’s work to coordinate development, manufacture and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine in a matter of months.

“It was clear we needed a modern day Apollo Project or Manhattan Project that mobilized the full resources of the U.S. government and the private sector,” Azar said of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine development initiative.

Azar said 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be available in the first week after Food and Drug Administration approval, followed by an additional 40 million doses – enough for 20 million Americans – by the end of December. Azar said the federal government will rely on state leaders to coordinate vaccine distribution.

“States have different circumstances and are at different epidemiological situations,” Azar said. “State leaders like Governor Lee are in the best position to take these general national recommendations and translate them into more precise guides that fits their state.”

Tennessee will receive 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in a first round and 100,000 does of the Moderna vaccine, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said. Health care workers and other frontline workers will be the first to receive the vaccine.

Pence thanked Lee and state officials for forging “a seamless partnership” with the federal government to coordinate a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine when approved by the FDA.

“You're poised to spring into action as soon as the vaccine is made available to us,” Pence told Lee.

Pfizer announced last month Tennessee was one of four states to help refine plans for the delivery and deployment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine when it receives approval from the FDA.

“Vaccination is the key to reducing the stress on our hospital system and reviving our economy,” said Wendy Long, CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association.

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.