Trump disputes CDC director’s COVID-19 vaccine timeline

President Donald Trump said that a potential coronavirus vaccine could be widely distributed by the end of 2020, contradicting congressional testimony earlier Wednesday from the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that Dr. Robert Redfield was “confused.”

Redfield, the director of the CDC, told a Senate panel Wednesday morning that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be broadly available to the general public until the summer of 2021.

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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 vaccine wouldn’t be broadly available until the spring or summer of 2021, he estimated.

Trump raised new questions later Wednesday, however, when he publicly contradicted Redfield on the vaccine timeline. In a White House press conference, Trump said that the CDC director had misspoken and that the U.S. could start distributing a vaccine starting in mid-October.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that. I think it’s just incorrect information,” Trump said of Redfield’s comments. “When he said it, I believe he was confused.”

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Trump claimed that a coronavirus vaccine could be announced in October. “We’re ready to go immediately, as the vaccine is announced,” Trump said. “We’ll be announcing the results fairly soon.”

Trump said drug companies are having “tremendous success with the vaccine” but that “safety has to be 100 percent before distributing.”

He said he called Redfield after his testimony. “I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question, probably.”

The government outlined a sweeping plan Wednesday to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans when proven safe and effective, though Redfield made clear that widespread vaccination of millions of Americans couldn’t come until well into next year.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or even late this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot.

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The entire vaccine enterprise faces continued skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May. Since then, questions have mounted about whether the government is trying to rush treatments and vaccines to help Trump’s reelection chances.

Of the Americans who said in the May AP poll that they wouldn't get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety. To effectively protect the nation from the coronavirus, experts say 70% to 90% of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19.

The Health and Human Services Department announced Wednesday that political appointee Michael Caputo would take a leave of absence to "focus on his health and the well-being of his family.” The news followed revelations that Caputo had tried to gain editorial control over the CDC's scientific publications on COVID-19, which he contended were hurting the Trump administration.

Redfield said that the “scientific integrity” of his agency’s reports “has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch.” He also rejected questions about whether the CDC's timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by Nov. 1 was politically motivated.

“The worst thing that could happen is if we have a vaccine delivered and we’re still not ready to distribute,” Redfield told Senate lawmakers. “There was absolutely no political thinking about it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.