WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention misspoke when he testified that a coronavirus vaccine might not be widely available until next year and that face masks are a more effective way of fighting the disease.
“I believe he was confused,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Dr. Robert Redfield told a Senate panel on Wednesday that a limited supply of coronavirus vaccine may be available between November and December, but that it was unlikely to be available to the general public until the summer or fall of next year. His remarks contradicted Trump, who has said a vaccine could be available by the end of the year, perhaps by the Nov. 3 election.
Redfield also testified that wearing a face mask might offer more protection against the spread of coronavirus than a vaccine.
Masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” to fight the pandemic, Redfield said.
“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Redfield said, adding that vaccines are not 100% percent effective.
“If I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me,” he said. “This face mask will.”
A few hours later, Trump said during a White House news briefing that Redfield was wrong on both counts.
“I called him – I said, ‘What did you mean by that?’” Trump told reporters. “I think he just made a mistake. … I think he misunderstood the question.”
“I got the impression that he didn’t realize he said what he might have said,” Trump said.
Trump insisted the U.S. is ready to distribute the vaccine to much of the country whenever it is available, and he repeated his assertion that could be as early as October.
Trump also has consistently questioned the efficacy of masks and did so as recently at a Tuesday town hall in Philadelphia.
“A vaccine is much more effective than the mask,” he insisted during the White House briefing.
Trump said that when he called Redfield on Wednesday, “I said to him, what’s with the mask.’ He said I think I answered that question incorrectly.’ I think maybe he misunderstood it.”
Asked if he still had confidence in Redfield, Trump said: “I do. I do. I do.”
Shortly after Trump’s briefing, Redfield responded to the president’s comments on Twitter by clearly promoting the use of 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 wrote. “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.”
Democratic challenger Joe Biden and others have suggested that Trump is pressuring the medical community to deliver a vaccine ahead of schedule so that he can benefit politically.
Biden also weighed in on the Trump-Redfield flap, tweeting: “When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump – this is what I meant.”
Trump opponents said he is deliberately undercutting his CDC director for political purposes.
Tommy Vietor, a national security spokesman during the Barack Obama administration, questioned the political value of Trump’s comments.
“For all the Teflon Don talk, days like today remind you that Trump is, in fact, a moron,” Vietor tweeted. “It’s hard to imagine a dumber political move than picking a fight with your own CDC director and then s— talking masks when a majority of REPUBLICANS support requiring them outside of home.”
Critics also expressed wonder at Trump’s denigration of masks.
“He is endangering his own supporters,” tweeted Democratic strategist Paul Begala, author of YOU’RE FIRED! The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump. “Has there ever been a leader who had such contempt for his followers?”
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