WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday that a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution shortly after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him “confused” by projecting a longer time frame .
Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield on the effectiveness of protective masks – which the president recommends but almost never wears – and said he had called Redfield to tell him so.
Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a “playbook”
Redfield, sometimes disguised in a Senate hearing, also spoke emphatically about the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. He hovered the possibility that a vaccine can be 70% effective in inducing immunity, saying, “I can even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me from COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine. “
Trump did not want any of that from the CDC director.
“Vaccine is much more effective than the mask,” he declared.
As for vaccinating Americans, Trump said Wednesday: “We think we can start sometime in October.” One of his newly added advisers, Dr. Scott Atlas, said that as many as 700 million doses could be available by the end of March.
Trump predicted, though, that the vaccine is still being tested in humans, and some health experts have said they believe a safe and highly effective vaccine is several months, if not much longer.
The CDC sent a planning document Wednesday to U.S. states, territories and some major cities. In addition to logistical complications, vaccines are likely to be given in two doses several weeks apart and should be refrigerated.
Redfield said states are not ready to handle the demand for such a distribution and about $ 6 billion in new funding will be needed to get the nation prepared.
Unanswered, Trump said: “We are ready to move and I think it will be full distribution.”
Redfield said any vaccine available in November or December would be in “very limited supply” and reserved for first responders and people most vulnerable to COVID-19. The shot would not be widely available until the spring or summer of 2021, he estimated.
On Wednesday night, following Trump’s comments, CDC officials originally sent an email claiming that Redfield believed he was answering a question about when vaccination of all Americans would be completed. But then they called back this statement and did not immediately provide further comments.
The entire vaccine business faces continued public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they would be vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May. Since then, there have only been questions about whether the government is trying to rush treatments and vaccines to help Trump re-elect.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that politically appointed Michael Caputo would take leave to “focus on his health and the well – being of his family.” The news followed revelations that Caputo had tried to gain editorial control of the CDC’s scientific publications on COVID-19, which he claimed were harming the Trump administration.
Redfield said the “scientific integrity” of his agency’s reports “has not been compromised and that it will not be compromised under my supervision.” He also dismissed questions about whether the CDC’s timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by November 1 was politically motivated.
“The worst that could happen is if we get a vaccine delivered and we are still not ready to distribute,” Redfield told Senate lawmakers. “There was absolutely no political thinking about it.”
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s chief Democrat, said political interference by the HHS had damaged public confidence in the government’s health information.
“The Trump administration must immediately leave science to scientists,” Murray said.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said during the campaign that he trusts what scientists say about a potential vaccine – but not Trump.
Biden has said he would take a vaccine “tomorrow” if it was available, but he would first “see what the researchers said”.
Regarding the planned vaccine campaign, Redfield said his agency will work with state health officials to complete the preparations in the coming days.
Among the highlights of the plan:
– For most vaccines, people need two doses at 21 to 28 day intervals. Dual-dose vaccines must come from the same drug manufacturer. There may be several vaccines from different manufacturers that are approved and available.
– Vaccination of the American people is not a sprint, but a marathon. Initially, there may be a limited supply of vaccines, and the focus will be on protecting healthcare workers, other key employees and people in vulnerable groups. A second and third phase would extend the vaccination to the entire population.
– The vaccine itself will be free thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and granted by the Trump administration. The goal is that patients will not be charged separately for administering their shots, and officials say they are working to ensure that is the case for all Medicare recipients and the uninsured as well as those covered by insurance at their jobs.
States and communities will need to develop accurate plans for the reception and local distribution of vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have one month to submit plans.
A massive effort is needed in information technology to track who gets which vaccines and when, and the biggest challenge is getting more public and private databases to connect.
Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday’s reports try to put the key details in a comprehensive framework. Distribution is under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, an initiative supported by the White House to have vaccines ready to be shipped within 24 hours from the time a version is approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration .
Stobbe reported from New York. AP author Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.