Trump disputes CDC director on vaccine timing, says ‘he made a mistake’
President Trump on Wednesday repeatedly contradicted one of his top health officials, saying Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield was wrong about the timeline for a possible coronavirus vaccine and the efficacy of wearing masks.
Trump insisted at a press conference that Redfield made a “mistake” when he stated in testimony earlier on Wednesday that a potential coronavirus vaccine would not be available to the general public until at least mid-2021.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information,” Trump told reporters. “That is incorrect information.”
Trump also said that he disagreed with Redfield’s remark at the hearing that masks may be more effective than a vaccine in protecting individuals from the virus, again asserting that the CDC director made a “mistake.”
Trump insisted that Redfield was confused on both topics, and said he called the health official to register his disagreement sometime earlier Wednesday.
“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,” Trump said of masks. “I believe if you asked him he would probably say that he didn’t understand the question.”
The president’s remarks represented the latest instance of Trump breaking with one of his top health officials, and immediately raised questions about Redfield’s job security. CDC representatives did not return a request for comment on the president’s remarks.
Asked whether he had confidence in Redfield, Trump replied that he does, but again insisted that the CDC director “misunderstood” the questions.
Trump has been criticized by Democratic nominee Joe Biden for not listening to scientists and public health experts to guide his decisionmaking on handling the pandemic, and the contradictions of Redfield are sure to be seized upon by Democrats.
Biden has also accused Trump of putting political pressure on government regulators to speedily approve a vaccine for the coronavirus. The Trump administration has fired back, arguing Biden is inciting fears and that such criticism could make it less likely that people take vaccines.
Redfield, who is a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday that he didn’t expect a potential vaccine for COVID-19 to be available for the general public until the second or third quarter of 2021.
“I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized,” Redfield said during the hearing. “If you’re asking me when is it 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 2021.”
Redfield also told lawmakers that face masks could be more effective in protecting against the virus than a vaccine because if a person does not get an immune response from a vaccine, it will not protect them from the virus.
In a series of tweets shortly following the conclusion of Trump’s press conference, Redfield appeared to attempt to clarify his remarks on masks.
“I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,” Redfield tweeted. “The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”
Trump said that a coronavirus vaccine would be ready “very soon” and insisted that his administration would “immediately” begin distributing it to the general public.
Dr. Scott Atlas, who was brought on in August to advise Trump on the virus, said that “high priority” individuals like elderly people who are at high risk would receive the vaccine “no later than January” and that 700 million doses would be ready by the end of the first quarter of 2021, around March.
Atlas was at Wednesday’s press briefing but Redfield was not. Other officials who were once regulars at White House briefings on the coronavirus such as Deborah Birx, the leader of the White House task force on the pandemic, and Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading expert on infectious diseases, were absent.
Trump has repeatedly forecast a quick timeline for the vaccine, saying at a ABC News town hall in Pennsylvania on Tuesday that the vaccine could be ready within three to four weeks and on Wednesday predicting a vaccine could be distributed beginning in mid-October. Health experts like Fauci have said that they expect a vaccine to be ready by the end of the year.
Trump has explicitly raised the possibility a vaccine could be ready before the November election.
Shortly before Trump’s news conference, Biden said that health experts alone should be in charge of distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Biden said in a speech from Wilmington, Del. “At this moment the American people can’t either.”
On Wednesday, Trump accused Democrats of “disinformation” by questioning whether political interference was at play in the vaccine process and called on Biden to stop promoting what he described as “anti-vaccine theories.”
Trump has repeatedly diverged with top health officials in his assessments on the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. Trump has insisted that the country is “rounding the turn” on the virus, a point that Fauci disputed last week.
Trump also said last month that he disagreed with Redfield’s assessment that the U.S. could face the “worst fall” from a public health perspective if Americans do not follow guidelines to ease the spread of the coronavirus during flu season.
Trump has also eschewed his administration’s own health guidelines, hosting roughly 1,500 guests at the White House for his Republican National Convention speech in August and hosting an indoor campaign rally in Nevada on Sunday that earned public rebuke from the state’s Democratic governor.
On Wednesday, Trump insisted that masks are a “mixed bag” when it comes to addressing the pandemic, suggesting that face coverings are problematic if people touch them and then touch other surfaces. Public health experts have uniformly recommended the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.