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President Trump disputed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield’s testimony to Congress on Wednesday that a coronavirus vaccine would not be ready for the general public until the “second” or “third quarter” of next year, saying Redfield “misunderstood” the questions he was asked.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Trump said at a White House press conference on Wednesday in reference to Redfield’s timeline for a vaccine. “It’s just incorrect information and I called him and he didn’t tell me that and I think he got the message maybe confused, maybe it was stated incorrectly.”
Trump has repeatedly promised that a vaccine will be ready for distribution in either October or November. Redfield testified that while vaccine trials could be completed by November or December, the mammoth production and distribution challenge that remained would mean that most Americans will not be able to receive it for several months.
“No, we’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced,” Trump said.
Pressed as to why he believed his own timeline was more accurate than that of one of the top medical experts in his administration, Trump doubled down.
“I don’t think he means that. I don’t think he — when he said it, I believe he was confused,” Trump said, adding, “I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake.”
At the same briefing, however, Scott Atlas, who recently joined Trump’s coronavirus team as an adviser, offered an appraisal on the vaccine timeline that was closer to Redfield’s, saying that “no later than January” high-risk groups “would be able to receive” a dose of the vaccine, but that another 700 million doses would not be completed until “the end of Q1.”
Testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, Redfield said he thought a vaccine would initially be available sometime between November and December, but would not be quickly ready for widespread distribution.
“If you’re asking me when it is going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2020,” Redfield said.
The CDC director also made headlines for an exchange with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on the topic of face masks. Reed asked why Trump was not promoting the use of face masks to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“I’m not going to comment directly about the president. But I am going to comment as the CDC director that these face masks are the most powerful public health tool we have and I will continue to appeal to all Americans to embrace these face masks,” Redfield said. “If we did for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks we’d bring this pandemic under control. I might even go so far as to say that this face covering is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don’t get an immune response the vaccine’s not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
In his press conference, Trump claimed he knew better. “Number one, it’s not more effective, by any means, than a vaccine, and I called him about that. Those were the two things I discussed with him. And I believe that if you ask him, he would probably say that he didn’t understand the question,” Trump said.
Redfield clearly did understand the question, which was about Trump’s remarks the night before at an ABC Town Hall event, in which he said, “There are a lot of people [who] think the masks are not good.” The CDC director chose not to answer it, as did the other two witnesses at the hearing, assistant secretary of HHS Admiral Brett Giroir and assistant secretary Robert Kadlec. But Redfield’s answer was unambiguous.
Contradicting the advice of virtually every public health expert, Trump then went on to question the effectiveness of masks,
“I see that in restaurants there are people with masks and they’re playing around with their mask and they have it — their fingers are in their mask and then they’re serving with plates. I think there’s a lot of problems with masks,” Trump said, adding, “No, the mask is not as important as the vaccine, the mask perhaps helps.”
Trump was also asked why he didn’t encourage Americans to wear a mask given the scientific finding that it could reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
“Well, I’m tested and I’m sometimes surprised when I see somebody sitting, like with Joe [Biden]. Joe feels very safe in a mask. I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t want to expose his face. I don’t know what’s going on. He’ll be way away from people, nowhere near people.”
The president also acknowledged that at least one White House staffer had tested positive for COVID-19 this week, saying he first learned of the new case Tuesday night. Trump has continued to hold large campaign rallies in violation of state rules put in place to slow the spread of the virus that has so far killed more than 195,000 Americans.
Biden has criticized Trump for not following the advice of scientists and medical experts, and White House reporters asked the president whether his contradicting Redfield was yet another example of that.
“I think he misunderstood the questions, but I’m telling you, here’s the bottom line: Distribution is going to be very rapid. He may not know that, maybe he’s not aware of that,” Trump said.
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