Trump throws health expert under the bus
Donald Trump has insisted a coronavirus vaccine will be available to America's general public "very soon", contradicting the head of his own government's health agency.
Dr Robert Redfield is director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the agency responsible for overseeing America's virus response.
Dr Redfield testified before the US Senate today. A few hours later, Mr Trump held a media briefing at the White House, where he disputed Dr Redfield's answers and suggested he had been "confused" during his testimony.
Let's start with Dr Redfield's remarks.
"Tell me when you think we'll have a vaccine, as best you can, ready to administer to the public," Senator John Kennedy asked him.
"I think there will be a vaccine that will initially be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply, and will have to be prioritised," Dr Redfield said.
"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 a vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.
"I think vaccination will begin in November, December, and then we'll pick up, and it'll be in a prioritised way. Those first responders and those at greatest risk for death. And then eventually that will expand."
So according to Dr Redfield, a vaccine will be available to some select Americans before the end of the year, and to the general public at some point in mid-2021.
He also spoke about the importance of wearing face masks.
"Face masks, these face masks, are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings," he said.
"We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defence. 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 per cent.
"If I don't get an immune response to the vaccine, it's not going to protect me. This face mask will."
Mr Trump has been telling Americans they'll have access to a vaccine within months, and perhaps even before the general election in November.
At today's briefing, Fox News reporter John Roberts asked the President about Dr Redfield's comments, which were far less optimistic.
"I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information," Mr Trump said.
"And I called him, and he didn't tell me that. And I think he got the message maybe confused, maybe it was stated incorrectly.
"No, we're ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced. And it could be announced in October. It could be announced a little bit after October. But once we go, we're ready.
"As you know, Pfizer's making this, they're taking a tremendous financial risk. They're at a stage where they're actually making it, because they feel very confident as to the results. They'll be announcing their results fairly soon.
"And no, he's - that's incorrect information."
"He was pretty clear in the way he said it," Roberts pointed out.
"Yeah well, I think so, but I don't think he means that. I don't think he - when he said it, I believe he was confused," the President said.
"I'm just telling you, we're ready to go as soon as the vaccine happens.
"I would say that we will start distributing it immediately."
"But to the general public?" asked Roberts.
"To the general public, very shortly. I mean really, to the general public, immediately. When we go, we go," he replied.
"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.
"I saw the statement, I called him, I said, 'What did you mean by that?' And I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question, probably."
"So if you were to put a timeline on when every person in America will be able to get a vaccine, what would that date be?" asked Roberts.
"I think it would be very soon. I think our distribution process is going to go very quickly," Mr Trump said.
"We're going to have a vaccine, at most, within a couple of months."
Mr Trump's opponent in the upcoming election, Joe Biden, has suggested the President might pressure government agencies to approve a vaccine prematurely, before it has been proven safe by rigorous testing.
"I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump. At the moment, the American people can't either," Mr Biden said today.
"Scientific breakthroughs don't care about calendars any more than the virus does. They certainly don't adhere to election cycles. And their timing, their approval and distribution should never, ever be distorted by political considerations.
"There has to be total transparency, so scientists outside the government know what is being approved."
"And if the scientists say a vaccine under the President's watch is safe and effective, should people take it?" a reporter asked.
"Absolutely. Do it," Mr Biden said.
Journalists also asked Mr Trump about Dr Redfield's advice on masks.
"Why not devote your energy now to a campaign to have all Americans wear a mask, something that - if more effective than a vaccine - would also help schools and the economy?" a reporter asked.
"OK, number one, it's not more effective by any means than a vaccine," said Mr Trump.
"And I believe that if you ask him, he would probably say that he didn't understand the question.
"And I was inaccurately covered. Because I was on with George last night, George Stephanopoulos, and I enjoyed it. I think people enjoyed it. A lot of people said very good things about the show.
"But they always cut my sentences off. They cut it off.
"On masks, masks have problems too. And I talked about, the masks have to be handled very gently, very carefully."
Lest you think I'm cutting Mr Trump's sentences off, here is the full exchange he's referring to from yesterday's town hall event with undecided voters on ABC News.
"The wearing of masks has proven to lessen the spread of COVID. Why don't you support a mandate for national mask wearing, and why don't you wear a mask more often?" one of those voters, Julie Bard, asked.
"Well I do wear them when I have to, when I'm in hospitals and other locations," Mr Trump told her.
"But I will say this. They said at the Democrat convention that they're going to do a national mandate. They never did it, because they've checked out, and they didn't do it. A good question is, like Joe Biden, they said, 'We're going to do a national mandate.'"
"He's called on all governors to have them. It is a state responsibility," interjected Stephanopoulos, who was moderating the event.
"No, but he didn't do it. I mean, he never did it," said Mr Trump.
"By the way, a lot of people don't want to wear masks. There are a lot of people who think that masks are not good."
"Who are those people?" asked Stephanopoulos.
"I'll tell you who those people are. Waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. I saw it the other day, where they were serving me and they're playing with the mask," said the President.
"I'm not blaming them. I'm just saying what happens. They're playing with the mask, and so the mask is over, and they're touching it. And then they're touching the plate. That can't be good.
"There are a lot of people. If you look at Dr Fauci's original statement. You look at a lot of people - CDC - you look at a lot of people's original statement. They said very strongly, George, 'Don't wear masks.' Then all of a sudden they want to wear masks.
"The concept of a mask is good, but it also - you're constantly touching it. You're touching your face, you're touching plates. There are people that don't think masks are good."
There you go. All of Mr Trump's sentences, unchopped.
Uncommitted voter asks Pres. Trump in a special @ABC2020 event: "Why don’t you support a mandate for national mask wearing? And why don’t you wear a mask more often?" https://t.co/eE0UNurElz pic.twitter.com/6u5n4Riepy— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
It is true that Dr Fauci initially advised Americans they did not need to wear masks.
He has since claimed he did so because he feared the public would panic buy them, creating a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
Anyway, back to the briefing, because yes, there is more to get through here.
"Here, up on the podium today, you're twice contradicting the director of your own CDC on the science, who testified before Congress today," another reporter told the President.
"No, he's contradicting himself. I think he misunderstood the questions," Mr Trump interjected, talking over him.
"I told you - I don't have to go through this, but I'm telling you. Here's the bottom line. Distribution's going to be very rapid. He may not know that. Maybe he's not aware of that, and maybe he's not dealing with the military, et cetera, like I do.
"Distribution is going to be very rapid. And the vaccine is going to be very powerful. It's going to solve a tremendous problem. It's going to be very powerful."
"How can the American people trust you on the pandemic when you're contradicting the head of the CDC in your own administration?" the reporter shot back.
"Because of the great job we've done. Because of the great things we've done in other fields, also," said Mr Trump.
He once again mentioned a phone call he had with Dr Redfield after the director's testimony.
"I said to him, 'What's with the masks?' He said, 'I think I answered that question incorrectly.' I think maybe he misunderstood it. You know, we have two questions, maybe he misunderstood both of them," Mr Trump said.
"As far as the mask is concerned, I hope that the vaccine is going to be a lot more beneficial than the masks. Because people have used the masks.
"As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake."
Asked whether he himself should wear a mask more often to "set an example" for Americans, the President stressed that pretty much everyone he meets is tested for the virus first, and then mocked Mr Biden for frequently donning one.
"Joe feels very safe in a mask. I don't know, maybe he doesn't want to expose his face. I don't know what's going on," he said.
"He'll be way away from people. Nowhere near people. There'll be nobody with him. He doesn't draw any crowds, so have circles, these big circles, they'll be way far away. There's no reason for him to have masks on.
"I'm in sort of a different position. And maybe if I wasn't in that position I'd be wearing it more. But I've worn masks. And especially I like to wear them when I'm at hospital, not so much for me as for other people."
Dr Redfield posted a statement on Twitter after Mr Trump's briefing, stressing that he believes "100 per cent" in the importance of a vaccine. He did not contradict the President's remarks.
The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds. #COVID19— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@CDCDirector) September 16, 2020
Originally published as Trump throws health expert under the bus