President Donald Trump contradicted his Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head saying he was ‘confused’ and ‘made a mistake’ when he told Congress a coronavirus vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until the second quarter of next year.
Trump also said Dr. Robert Redfield must have ‘misunderstood’ a question when he told a Senate committee, ‘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.’
‘No, the mask is not more important than the vaccine,’ Trump said, telling reporters he called Redfield earlier Wednesday to set him straight. ‘Maybe he misunderstood both of them,’ he said of the two newsy questions posed to Redfield by U.S. senators that morning.
During a lengthy briefing, Trump said he still had confidence in Redfield.
‘I do, I do,’ he answered.
But he continued to say Redfield heard wrong.
‘He sort of, I think, maybe misunderstood a question,’ Trump said again.
On Wednesday morning, Redfield testified to a Senate committee that while first responders may have access to a vaccine in November or December of 2020, most Americans wouldn’t get it until the ‘second or third quarter’ of 2021 – meaning a full year from now.
By early afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had disputed that timeline.
‘We do believe that it will be widely available by the end of the year,’ the press secretary said.
And Trump reiterated that point later in the day.
‘I think he made a mistake. I was very surprised to hear. It really doesn’t matter, we’re all set to distribute immediately,’ the president said. ‘I got the impression that he didn’t realize he said what he might have said. I didn’t see him say it.’
Trump even brought Dr. Scott Atlas, who’s held a number of contrarian positions on the coronavirus, up to the podium to provide assurance the government was prepared to distribute the vaccine imminently.
Earlier Wednesday, the government released a ‘playbook’ to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans as early as January, with plans to start shipping them out within 24 hours of approval from regulators.
Trump also said of Redfield, ‘Maybe he doesn’t understand the distribution process.’
After Trump’s remarks, a spokesperson for Redfield told ABC News that he was ‘answering a question he thought was in regard to the time period in which all Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination.’
‘He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans.’
The statement also contained quotes from Redfield regarding what he had said about masks.
‘I 100 per cent believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,’ Redfield said.
‘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,’ he added.
The president originally focused his coronavirus ire on his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, who spoke in Wilmington earlier Wednesday and expressed concerns that a vaccine would be expedited to help with the president’s re-election process.
‘So let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump – and the American people can’t either,’ Biden said there, announcing some safety standards he’d like to put in place.
Biden also mocked a response Trump gave Tuesday night when asked why he wasn’t promoting more widespread mask-wearing, a prospect the president has bulked at.
‘He said because waiters don’t like them, waiters touch food and touch the mask,’ Biden scoffed. ‘Come on.’
Trump made the same point Wednesday in the briefing room.
He also pushed that Biden seemed too comfortable in a mask.
‘Joe feels very safe in a mask. Maybe he doesn’t want to expose his face,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’
‘There’s no reason for him to have masks on,’ the president added, pointing out that Biden hasn’t held large rallies, due to the Democrat being concerned about coronavirus spread.
Video: Redfield says no one at CDC advised Trump to ‘downplay’ coronavirus (The Washington Post)