Alex Azar Says COVID Vaccine Will Be As Easy to Get As Flu Shot by February

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine could be as easy to get as a flu shot by late February and early March in the U.S.

Azar made the comments on the day that the country's mass vaccination campaign began, with Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus shot—the first to be approved in the U.S.—administered to Americans this morning.

While high-risk groups such as health care workers and the elderly will be in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines first, Azar told NBC News' Savannah Guthrie that the general population would likely have access to them by "late February going into March," comparing the situation to the availability of flu vaccines.

Azar said: "Late February, into March time period, I think you will start seeing much more like a flu vaccination campaign. People going into their Kroger, their CVS, their Walgreens, Walmart."

About 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be distributed across the country this week as the first phase of the vaccination program begins.

"We hope we will see as much of that used as humanly possible this week," Azar said.

Gen. Gustave Perna, of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative, has said that another 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be kept in reserve so that all those who received their first dose can get a second shot three weeks later, as is required by the manufacturers.

Azar said he had hope that it was still possible to vaccinate 20 million people in the country by the end of the year.

"We know we have the vaccine available to get to 20 million people by the end of December and then a total of 50 million by the end of January," he said. "But we hope to have 100 million shots in arms in February between first and second doses."

"Today is just, it's such a historic day as we hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel of this horrible pandemic and the toll of human suffering that we have seen."

With regulatory authorities currently assessing whether or not to approve Moderna's vaccine candidate, Azar said the country could soon have "significant additional supplies," particularly if the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccine candidates are approved in January as well.

During the interview with Guthrie, Azar also sought to assure skeptics that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine—approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week—was safe and effective.

"This is a 94 percent effective vaccine. It's gone through every aspect of FDA process with integrity and transparent data. If you are recommended to get it and it is available for you, please do get it. Protect yourself and those around you. Please get the vaccine."

Alex Azar speaks at White House briefing
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 19, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images