The rollout of coronavirus vaccines could begin early in the new year, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.
Mr Donnelly is due to meet with Professor Brian MacCraith, head of the State's vaccination taskforce, on Monday.
Prof MacCraith's team is scheduled to deliver a rollout strategy to Government in mid-December and the Health Minister is now optimistic about their introduction in January.
He said: "Potentially early in the new year we could be looking at things. Brian MacCraith and his team are obviously very quickly putting in place the distribution needed for that.
"I'd say December is unlikely to be honest with you, but quite soon."
Mr Donnelly told Newstalk's On the Record with Gavan Reilly on Sunday that he did not want to introduce mandatory vaccination for the general public.
He said: "Several EU countries have introduced legislation on mandatory vaccination. We haven't and I can tell you there has been no conversation at a Government level about doing that.
"My strong preference with that is that it would be voluntary."
Mr Donnelly noted a Red C opinion poll in the Sunday Business Post that found 74% of the public would be in favour of taking the vaccine.
In a separate interview with RTÉ's This Week, the minister admitted the Government is expecting cases to start rising again in two weeks' time, following the move back to level three restrictions.
He said: "What we expect to see, and indeed what Nphet expects to see, is the number of cases will continue to fall for at least another week and potentially another two weeks.
"I then expect to see, and indeed Nphet expects to see, the cases beginning to go up again."
However, he said the Government does not intend to reimpose restrictions this year unless there is "a huge rise in cases".
He said: "There is no intention or any suggestion from either Nphet or Government that restrictions will be reimposed this year.
"Those kind of considerations will always be kept under review both by Government and Nphet.
"If something very serious happened, if we saw a huge increase in cases, if we saw uncontrolled events happening all over the place, obviously government would keep that under consideration."
Mr Donnelly also noted that Ireland has seen "the biggest reduction in Covid cases anywhere in Europe".
He added: "We've had more than a 90% reduction in Covid fatalities. We've had the biggest reduction in fatalities of any country in Europe.
"So, for every 10 people who died of Covid in the first wave, less than one died in wave two, even though the case numbers were about the same.
"Now, obviously any death is one too many. But for Ireland to have achieved the biggest reduction in fatalities per million population is testament to the work everyone has put in.
"As health minister, I have to say a huge, huge thank you to the health care workers, they've been fantastic."