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US President Donald Trump says the official in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was confused when he said a coronavirus vaccine could take until the middle of 2021 to be rolled out.
CDC director Robert Redfield, a Trump appointee, testified on Wednesday (local time) in front of a US Senate committee that a COVID-19 vaccine could be broadly rolled out by the middle of next year or a little later.
« No, I think he made a mistake when he said that, » Mr Trump said, telling reporters he called Mr Redfield after the testimony.
« That’s incorrect information. I believe he was confused. I think he just misunderstood the question, probably. »
Mr Redfield, head of the federal agency responsibly for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, had said that a general availability of a vaccine could come by « late second quarter, third quarter 2021. »
A vaccine could be ready as soon as this November or December, Mr Redfield said, adding that limited first doses could go to those who were most vulnerable.
But « in order to have enough of us immunised to have immunity, I think it’s going to take six to nine months, » he said.
The CDC director told the committee that masks are a more effective means of protection against the coronavirus than a potential vaccine.
But Mr Trump said he spoke to Mr Redfield afterward about his comments and that « if you ask him, he’d probably say that he didn’t understand the question. »
There is broad scientific consensus that wearing a mask helps stop the spread of COVID-19, and Mr Trump’s own CDC recommends wearing masks « in public settings around people who don’t live in your household and when you can’t stay six feet away from others. »
Pressed by journalists in the White House briefing room, Mr Trump said he had confidence in Mr Redfield despite the disagreement over the timeline of a coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Hours before Mr Trump spoke, Mr Redfield told the Senate Appropriations Committee that his agency has not altered its scientific publications on the coronavirus.
That comes despite pressure from Trump officials who allege the agency has worked against the re-election Mr Trump.
Mr Redfield testified that the CDC’s « scientific integrity … has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch. »
Last week, local news outlets reported that Michael Caputo, a Health and Human Services Department political appointee, tried to gain editorial control over the CDC’s weekly scientific report.
In a separate online video last week, Mr Caputo reportedly said some CDC scientists constituted a « resistance unit » conspiring against the Trump administration.
Earlier in the day, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said that while he trusts what scientists say about a potential coronavirus vaccine, he doesn’t trust Mr Trump.
It was the latest attack from the former vice-president in a tit-for-tat over a potential COVID-19 vaccine that has taken centre stage in the presidential race with just seven weeks left until election day.
Mr Biden, speaking from Delaware after being briefed by public health experts about a potential vaccine, cited Mr Trump’s « incompetence and dishonesty » surrounding the distribution of personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing.
The US « can’t afford to repeat those fiascos when it comes to a vaccine, » he said.
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Mr Trump and Mr Biden have been trading accusations that the other is undermining public trust in a potential coronavirus vaccine.
Mr Biden has expressed concerns that the vaccine approval process could be politicised, while Mr Trump and his allies counter that such comments from Mr Biden and other Democrats are turning off the public to a potentially lifesaving vaccine when it’s released.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
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