President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed renewed confidence that a viable COVID-19 vaccine would be ready by October, which directly contradicts a top administration health expert and is facing fierce criticism from his Democratic election rival Joe Biden.
Trump created confusion on the matter with an extraordinary public rebuke from one of his top health experts who said masks were a leading weapon in the fight against the pandemic and that a vaccine was unlikely to be widely available until mid-2021.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that. That’s just false information,” Trump told reporters, referring to the Senate’s testimony by Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield.
“We are very close to that vaccine, as you know … We think we can start sometime in October or soon after,” he said.
“I think he was confused,” he said of Mr. Redfield. “I was just telling you we’re ready to go as soon as the vaccine is administered.”
Mr Redfield told lawmakers on Wednesday that a “very limited” distribution to priority groups, including first responders, could begin in November and December, but at least full implementation would take many months.
“I think we’re probably looking at the end of the second quarter, the third quarter of 2021,” before a safe and effective vaccine would be available to the general public, he added.
Mr Redfield tweeted his support for a possible vaccine Wednesday evening, but warned Americans to be vigilant about reducing viral spread in the meantime.
The contradiction between President Trump and health experts on a topic that has become a focal point of the 2020 election campaign highlighted the lack of confidence Biden and the public have in the president’s handling of the pandemic, which killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
“When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump – this is what I meant,” Joe Biden tweeted after Mr Trump’s comments.
Barely an hour earlier, the Democratic candidate said Mr. Trump’s refusal to take major steps to address the pandemic, such as setting national guidelines for social disassociation and testing, was “utterly disqualifying” for the presidency.
Mr. Biden said after a briefing from public health experts that he supported a rapid COVID-19 vaccine to bring American life back to normal, but said the process should be guided by science and security, not politics.
‘Many problems with masks’
On Tuesday, Trump accelerated his own already optimistic predictions, saying a vaccine may be available before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We’ll have it in weeks, you know – it could be three weeks, four weeks,” he told a Pennsylvania town hall question-and-answer session with voters broadcast on ABC.
Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is putting pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to aid his uphill bid for reelection.
He also raised eyebrows when asked at town hall why he downplayed the severity of the pandemic in the early months.
“I didn’t downplay it,” Mr. Trump replied. “I’ve actually upplayed it in many ways in terms of action.”
But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews that he had deliberately decided to water it down to avoid disturbing Americans.
The president, who rarely wears a mask in public and has long refused to encourage Americans to adopt the habit, told City Hall that “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t like masks.”
The comment received a lot of flak, including from Joe Biden, who also beat Trump for saying the Democrat refused to institute a mask mandate.
“I’m not the president, he’s the president,” Mr. Biden whispered into the microphone.
Mr. Trump’s anti-mask message was also confused by Mr. Redfield when the CDC director held up a medical mask in front of the senators, saying, “ I could go so far as to say this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me from Covid. than when I take a Covid vaccine. “
But Trump flatly rejected the claim, noting that he called Redfield to ask him what he meant.
“I think there are a lot of problems with masks,” Trump said. “It’s no more effective than a vaccine.”
Mr. Biden routinely shows up at campaign events wearing a mask and usually takes it off to give a speech. Mr Trump, who is behind in the pre-election election, has mocked Mr Biden for wearing a mask.
Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
People in Australia should stay at least 5 feet away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on collecting limits.
If you have cold or flu symptoms, stay at home and arrange for a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020080. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus