President Trump opened his latest White House press briefing on Wednesday by accusing those who question the safety of his administration’s COVID-19 vaccine of “recklessly endangering lives,” but mere moments later, he explicitly contradicted one of his administration’s leading medical officials, claiming he was “confused” about when the vaccine will be ready, and then went on to blame Democratic states for the high death toll.
Trump’s comments, which came as he storms towards a contentious election that could oust him from office, focused on the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who hours earlier had testified under oath that the COVID-19 vaccine Trump keeps touting will be ready soon likely won’t be “generally available to the American public” until next summer.
Asked at the briefing to clarify Dr. Robert Redfield’s new timeline, Trump immediately threw Redfield under the bus, saying, “That’s incorrect information.”
“When he said it, I believe he was confused… We’re ready to go as soon as the vaccine is approved,” the president said, insisting that the vaccine would be ready to be administered “really to the general public immediately.” “We’re not going to say ‘in six months,’ we’re going to start giving it to the general public,’” he added.
Pressed further to explain how a vaccine that hasn't been approved yet could be ready so quickly, the president appeared to offer a flurry of different timelines, all while seeming to suggest that a vaccine is “ready to go.”
“Under no circumstances will it be as late as the doctor said,” he said. “We think it could be October. Certainly during November, December would be the latest.”
Despite Redfield warning hours earlier that front-line workers and those at high risk will be the first to get the vaccine, with members of the general public to come later, Trump said: “I got the impression that he didn’t really realize what he said.”
Bizarrely, Trump’s timeline was cast into doubt moments later, when he gave the floor to adviser Scott Atlas, who said 700 million doses would be ready by the end of March.
But the president appeared unfazed.
“I never thought we could have a vaccine as quickly as we did but I freed it up, I freed up the FDA. Dr. Hahn’s done a great job and they’re ready to approve something when they come in,” he said.
Hours after the presser, ABC News reported that a spokesperson for Redfield provided a statement revising his earlier testimony, apparently to correspond with the president's comments. The statement said Redfield meant to say most Americans will have already received their vaccinations by mid-2021, not that the vaccinations will be made available then. But Redfield’s office then retracted that statement a short time later, according to ABC.
Lashing out at Democratic-led states was also part of the order of the day, with Trump blaming blue states for the soaring COVID-19 death toll. “Blue states had tremendous death rates,” he said. “If you take the blue states out, we're at a level that I don't think anybody in the world would be at.”
While New York and New Jersey, two Democratic-led states, have the most COVID-19 deaths to date, the GOP-led states of Texas and Florida are also in the top five, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both blue and red states have contributed to the nation’s death toll in a significant way.
After Trump had stirred up clear confusion about a vaccine he dove into attacking the upcoming election, leveling a series of fact-free attacks that further undermined the key pillar of democracy.
He expanded his unsubstantiated voter fraud claims, offering no evidence whatsoever to back up his suggestion that “governors from opposing parties” are in control of “millions of ballots.” “To me that's a much bigger threat than foreign countries because much of the stuff coming out about foreign countries turned out to be untrue.”
The attack on Democrats was Trump’s latest effort at alleging mass fraud which he cannot prove on such a major scale.
“It’s going to be fraud all over the place,” Trump said, adding later that "the biggest threat to this election is these unsolicited ballots, sent out by the millions."
Before the press conference was over, Trump again criticized Redfield on another comment he made earlier Wednesday to a Senate panel as he championed the importance of wearing face masks. “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 because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent. And if I don't get an immune response the vaccine's not going to protect me," Redfield said. “This face mask will.”
Trump said he had called Redfield on both of his comments, claiming that if one were to ask the CDC chief about it, “he would probably say that he didn’t understand the question.”
(Redfield later released a statement on Twitter saying “I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life.”)
"I mean, I think there's a lot of problems with masks,” Trump said. “No, a vaccine is much more effective than the masks."
Towards the end of the press conference, when asked by a reporter why the American people should trust him on the pandemic when he is publicly contradicting Redfield, Trump said: “Because of the great job we’ve done.”