Ministers and scientists have previously said they think the vaccine would become effective by spring.
Matt Hancock has suggested Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions could last for “the next couple of months” until the vaccine rollout becomes effective.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday morning, the health secretary was asked how long the new rules would be in place.
He said: “We have really got to get this under control. The cases in the Tier 4 areas have absolutely rocketed in the last few days – the last two weeks or so. We have got a long way to go to solve this
“Essentially we have got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads it is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”
Ministers and scientists have previously said they hope the rollout of a vaccine and improved testing availability will help life return to something closer to normal in the spring.
The rollout of the vaccine will be a huge logistical undertaking and it could take several months to get those priority groups fully vaccinated.
“There’s no way we’re going to achieve that before spring,” says Professor Linda Bauld, a public health expert at the University of Edinburgh told HuffPost UK earlier this month.
It comes amid fears a new variant of Covid-19 is spreading more rapidly across parts of the country.
Hancock said: “What is really important is that people not only follow them (the new rules) but everybody in a Tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people.
“We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present.
“It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months.”
On Saturday Boris Johnson announced strict coronavirus restrictions for England over Christmas, with London, the South-East and East also placed under a new tier 4.
Under the new tier 4 rules, which came into force on Sunday, people have been ordered to stay at home by law and non-essential retail will shut.
In tier 4 areas, one person is allowed to meet one other person not in their household and it must be outside. Travel is be banned into and out of tier 4 areas.
The new rules will be reviewed after two weeks.
Tier 4 restrictions apply in all previous tier 3 areas in the South-East, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It also applies in London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London) and the East of England (Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
In the rest of England, Christmas easing has been severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned.
Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas “bubbles” to a single day, while people in Northern Ireland have been asked to consider forming a bubble for Christmas Day only.
Wales has also mirrored the Tier 4 restrictions in England by bringing forward Alert Level 4 measures to Sunday, while Scotland has said its travel ban with the rest of the UK will now remain in place right throughout the festive period.
The new regulations creating a Tier 4 in England came into force at 7am on Sunday and will be laid before Parliament, which is in recess, on Monday.
The statutory instrument was made at 6am on Sunday, and must be approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords within 28 days, otherwise the change to the law is reversed as per a process known as the “made affirmative procedure”.