Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is "increasingly optimistic" that a vaccine for the coronavirus will be approved in the "next couple of months".
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One yesterday afternoon, he said that a vaccine could be available as soon as the first three months of 2021.
"In terms of the vaccine, I am increasingly optimistic, as is government, that we will see a vaccine approved in the next couple of months and that in the first half if not the first quarter of next year.
"(It will then) be possible to start vaccinating those who are most at risk: healthcare workers and people with chronic illnesses."
He said that his hopes are based on information that is being supplied to the Government from different companies and based on advice from the WHO.
However, he said that it is "possible" that the country may move back into a national lockdown after Christmas but it is not "inevitable".
Mr Varadkar said that the Government's strategy for dealing with the pandemic is to delay the virus and slow it down until there is a vaccine available.
"It's possible but it's by no means inevitable.
"We're learning more and more about this virus all the time.
"What we would seek to achieve now is to bring the R number well below one, to ensure that cases are falling significantly, and we start to reopen the country again - reopen it in a safe way," he said.
"What we would seek to achieve is that with an efficient testing, tracing and isolating system that we can keep the R number below one.
"But obviously if it starts going up above one, then maybe we will need to act."
It comes as HSE CEO Paul Reid said that the number of close contacts per confirmed coronavirus case is now down to an average of three.
Most close contacts also live within the same household as the confirmed case.
The news comes as there has been some positivity in the virus being suppressed within the community due to tightened restrictions.
Over the previous eight days, the positivity rate in testing has also dropped from 8.9pc of those who have been tested to 5.8pc.
Mr Reid said that the numbers are "still early but very good".
"The positivity rate in testing has now come down over the past eight days.
"The number of close contacts is now down to an average of three.
"Most close contacts are household. Still very early but good. We're all be part of the solution.
"Let's keep this going," he wrote on Twitter yesterday morning.