Trump administration health officials on Wednesday told a Senate panel that Americans should not lose faith in public health agencies or the vaccine development process, despite a recent spate of political interference.
The officials sought to defend the scientific integrity of the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic while reassuring Americans growing increasingly skeptical over the politicization of a vaccine for the virus.
“I will fight for science,” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Senate Health Committee during a hearing on the federal government's coronavirus response.
“I have complete and absolute faith in the expertise of the scientists who are terrific at FDA. If they were to make a determination that a vaccine would be safe and effective, I would do that. And I would encourage my family to take the vaccine,” Hahn said.
Hahn’s comments come as polls show increasing numbers of Americans say they do not have confidence in the vaccine development process because of political interference.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found six out of 10 adults are worried the FDA will rush to approve a vaccine due to political pressure, and an ABC News-Ipsos poll this week found 69 percent don't have confidence in President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE’s vouching for the safety of a vaccine.
Trump has insisted that the U.S. could have a safe and effective vaccine ready by the end of October, despite multiple health officials saying that timeline is incredibly unlikely.
Trump has repeatedly contradicted senior health officials throughout the pandemic and has pressured agencies to promote controversial treatments to COVID-19.
But on Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said it could take as long as next summer before every American is vaccinated against COVID-19.
Redfield said he thinks there could be 700 million doses of a vaccine ready by March or April, which would be enough to vaccinate every American with the two doses that would likely be required.
However, he then went on to say that having the doses available is only a first step. Actually getting those doses to the American public would take longer.
“I think that’s going to take us April, May, June, possibly July, to get the entire American public completely vaccinated,” Redfield said.
Redfield's comments were echoed by Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump on what would prevent 2024 bid: 'I guess a bad call from a doctor' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs Fauci: 'Worst time' for a government shutdown is in middle of pandemic MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said that “by the time you get to the third or fourth month of 2021, then you'll have doses for everyone.”
Redfield made similar comments at a different Senate hearing last week, which prompted a public rebuke from Trump, who said he personally called Redfield to express his displeasure.
When pressed by Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Democratic leaders vow climate action amid divide Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (D-Minn.), Redfield said he would not comment on conversations with the president.
But Redfield also said that a vaccine will not necessarily mean that life will immediately return to normal, because not everyone will develop an immune response.
He said that means masks are an effective, important tool in the fight against the coronavirus— which was similar to comments he made last week that also got him into trouble with the president.
Redfield also pushed back on comments made by a former top communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who accused CDC scientists of conspiring against Trump.
Without mentioning names, Redfield said he was “disappointed” by remarks from “people at HHS” that the agency is part of a subversive “deep state” intent on undermining Trump.
“It's offensive to me when I hear this type of comment,” Redfield said, seemingly referencing comments by Michael Caputo, the top HHS spokesman who is now on medical leave.
“The men and women at CDC are dedicated to protecting the health of this nation,” Redfield said. “Obviously people don’t understand the ability to suck energy out of people that are working 24/7 when they get unfairly criticized or unfairly characterized ... and that's the real harm in this.”
Redfield wasn't the only one pushing back against critics.
A seemingly irritated Fauci scolded Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.), saying the senator repeatedly misconstrued information about the pandemic and peddled incorrect information about herd immunity.
Paul indicated cases might not be rising in New York because of herd immunity.
Fauci told Paul he was wrong to make the suggestion, and he said Paul had also been wrong in other public comments about the concept of herd immunity.
“No, you've misconstrued that, senator, and you've done that repeatedly in the past,” Fauci said.
Paul, who was one of the first senators to disclose he had been infected with the coronavirus, has frequently criticized lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. He has also made other questionable claims, such as that he is now immune to future infection.
When Paul floated the theory that New Yorkers have now developed enough immunity that they are no longer at risk, Fauci appeared irritated and said the senator was completely off base.
“You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said. In New York, it's 22 percent,” Fauci said of the state's infection rate. “If you believe 22 percent in New York is herd immunity, you are alone in that."