Britain’s military chiefs are already working with senior health officials on rolling out millions of the jabs next year if trials being done at record speed prove one or more vaccines are safe and effective.
Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The vaccine programme is progressing well.
“On my central expectation, I would expect the bulk of the roll-out to be in the first half of next year.”
Pressed on whether NHS staff could get it before the end of this year, he added: “I don’t rule that out but that is not my central expectation.”
Asked about reports that NHS bosses had been told to prepare to start rolling out jabs within weeks, he explained further: “We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly but it’s not my central expectation that we will be doing that this year but the programme is progressing well.”
The Government is in very close contact with the leading vaccine candidates including the one being developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
Doses of this vaccine have already been produced for the UK.
Mr Hancock stressed: “Of course we are doing the preparatory work now for how that will be rolled out.
“We have got the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations has set out the order of priority (over who will get the jabs first).
“Of course, we are doing the logistical work, led by the NHS, working with the armed services who are playing an important role in the logistics of it to ensure that we have that roll-out programme ready.
“But preparing for a roll-out and actually having the stuff to roll out are two different things.
“It’s obviously something that we want to happen as soon as safely can be done and as fast as safely can be done but we are not there yet.”