Earlier in the day, a top public health official in his administration said something that doesn’t jibe with that. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said that even if a vaccine were ready and approved by this fall or winter, it wouldn’t be ready to be widely distributed to Americans until spring or summer 2021.
Other health officials, such as Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said it could take months for the vaccine to kick in and provide an effective level of immunity. In other words, the current state of things could be America’s reality for another year or so, even if a vaccine or vaccines are produced in record time.
Hours after Redfield shared his timeline with Congress, Trump held a news conference. He briefly mentioned the hurricane slamming the Gulf Coast, and then pivoted to trying to assure the American people that they and their families could be vaccinated as soon as this fall. “We’re ready to distribute immediately to a vast section of our country,” Trump said.
But he didn’t have much in the way of facts to back that up, instead indicating: Trust me over the scientists.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Trump told reporters of Redfield. “ … We’re not looking to say, gee, in six months, we’re going to start giving it to the general public. No, we want to go immediately. No, it was an incorrect statement.” Trump said he called Redfield soon after he saw his comments, which tells you how focused Trump is on shaping the public perception of a vaccine timeline.
In his news conference, the president also offered a prediction of when one would be widely ready, with a conspicuous time peg: “No, we’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced, and it could be announced in October, could be announced a little bit after October.”
So Trump is predicting a vaccine could be widely distributed, beyond those deemed most vulnerable, almost a full year earlier than the head of the CDC is. That does not comport with what the scientists think, as The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein and Sean Sullivan report: “Multiple experts — including top scientists leading the vaccine effort — have said it is very unlikely a vaccine will be available by [October].”
When reporters pressed Trump on how his much-speedier timeline would happen, his answer was vague, mostly centering on plans to deploy the military to distribute it.
On Wednesday, the president also gave some time to his new, controversial coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, to say that 700 million doses would be ready by the end of March. (Reminder: There is still no approved vaccine, though three in the United States are in the final experimental stage.)
Atlas assured reporters that storing an approved vaccine (some vaccine candidates require extremely cold conditions, which is a lot of refrigerators) and distributing it wouldn’t be a hindrance. Without saying it as directly as the president, Atlas pushed back on Redfield’s timeline, too.
But Redfield’s exchange in Congress about this was clear. In fact, he repeated his timeline twice. Here he is talking to Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).
Kennedy: Tell me, when you think we’ll have a vaccine, as best you can, ready to administer to the public, Dr. Redfield.Redfield: Well, I think as Dr. [Robert] Kadlec [of Health and Human Services] said, I think there will be vaccine that initially will be available sometime between November and December but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized. If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.Kennedy: And so you think by the late second and/or third quarter we will have started to vaccinate people?Redfield: I think that vaccination will begin in November or December and then will pick up. And it’ll be in a prioritized way, those first responders and those at greatest risk for death. And then eventually that will expand. It’s hard to believe, but there’s about 80 million people in our country that have significant co-morbidities that put themselves at risk. They have to get vaccinated, and then the general public.
That evening, after Trump finished his news conference disputing Redfield’s timeline, the CDC director sent out two tweets, and he did not take the opportunity to say he misspoke.
In addition, 3 in 5 Wisconsin voters say they’re worried they or someone in their family might get the virus, and those voters heavily favor Biden over Trump.
That’s where the vaccine figures so heavily into Trump’s political calculations. It’s something he can take credit for driving.
And it’s why he’s pushing back so hard on any narrative that makes Americans feel like this pandemic will stretch on for a while. But as his cleanup effort made clear Wednesday, Trump doesn’t have much to go on, and he risks promising the American people something that may not materialize.