World news – CDC boss walks back testimony that masks work BETTER than vaccines


Published: 04:51 BST, 17 September 2020 | Updated: 05:41 BST, 17 September 2020

CDC Director Robert Redfield has walked back his Senate testimony that masks work better against COVID-19 than vaccines, after Donald Trump called him ‘confused’ and ‘mistaken’ and dismissed his claims a vaccine will not be available until next year.

Redfield told a Senate committee Wednesday ‘this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine’ and said a vaccine wouldn’t be widely available to Americans until the second quarter of 2021.  

Hours later Trump hit back at Redfield saying the CDC head was ‘confused’ and must have ‘misunderstood’ the question being asked of him.

The president said he had called Redfield to set the record straight and said the CDC boss had agreed he ‘answered that question incorrectly’ about the masks.  

Redfield responded on social media Wednesday evening, where he appeared to bow to pressure from the president insisting ‘I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine’.

The top virologist clarified he meant the current ‘best defense’ against the virus is masks and other ‘mitigation efforts’ while there is no vaccine yet on the market.

CDC Director Robert Redfield has walked back his Senate testimony that masks work better against COVID-19 than vaccines, after Donald Trump called him ‘confused’ and ‘mistaken’ and dismissed his claims a vaccine will not be available until next year

Redfield responded on social media Wednesday evening, where he appeared to bow to pressure from the president insisting ‘I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines’

‘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,’ Redfield wrote on Twitter. 

‘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.’ 

Social media users gave a mixed response to the virologist’s tweets, with some calling on him to resign for changing his advice on the deadly virus at the behest of Trump. 

‘Are you confused and/or mistaken? I saw you give sworn testimony this morning. Trump says you were wrong and that he called you about it,’ one person tweeted. 

‘Would you change your testimony after taking that phone call from him? You really should resign.’ 

Others urged him to stand by his testimony and said he would have ‘blood on your hands’ if he bowed to pressure from Trump. 

‘Most important moment of your life. If you have an ounce of integrity, you will stick to your testimony and refute the president,’ one person tweeted.

‘If Trump still hangs you out to dry, you needs to quit immediately. If not, you are complicit with Trump and have blood on your hands.’ 

Another wrote: ‘Please stand your ground and stand behind your statement. We need someone we can trust with this very important information. 

‘The American people need you to take a stand. We need you and the qualified doctors and science to do the speaking. Please.’ 

Social media users gave a mixed response to the virologist’s tweets, with some calling on him to resign for changing his advice on the deadly virus at the behest of Trump and others urging him to stand his ground against the president

Redfield’s somewhat backpedaling came after Trump contradicted his testimony saying the virologist was ‘confused’ and ‘made a mistake’ when he told Congress a coronavirus vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until the second quarter of next year. 

Trump also said Dr. Robert Redfield must have ‘misunderstood’ a question when he told a Senate committee, ‘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.’ 

Trump opened a major public dispute with one of his most senior doctors at a freewheeling, almost hour-long coroanvirus briefing at which he also disclosed that a White House staff member had tested positive but said: ‘They were nowhere near me.’

In what appeared to be a repeat of his public feuds with Dr. Tony Fauci – and his contradiction of his own weather forecasters over Hurricane Dorian – he repeatedly claimed the CDC director’s sworn evidence to the Senate was confused, mistaken and that he did not understand the question.

Trump had tried to start the briefing by accusing Joe Biden of being anti-vaccine after the Democratic candidate said he ‘trusted scientists, the vaccine, but not Donald Trump,’ but instead found himself divided from his own senior medical experts – on a day when both numbers and deaths showed the first uptick since July.

‘No, the mask is not more important than the vaccine,’ Trump said, telling reporters he called Redfield earlier Wednesday to set him straight. 

‘Maybe he misunderstood both of them,’ he said of the two questions posed to Redfield by U.S. senators that morning.  

President Donald Trump contradicted his own CDC chief at Wednesday’s press briefing, calling Dr. Robert Redfield ‘confused’ and ‘mistaken’ for saying vaccines wouldn’t be widely available until halfway through 2021 and masks work better than vaccines 

Dr. Robert Redfield testified Wednesday morning before a Senate committee and said a ‘ face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.’ He also said a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until quarter two or three of 2021 

‘Tell me when you think you’ll have a vaccine – as best you can – ready to administer to the public, Dr. Redfield.’

Redfield: ‘Well as I think Dr. Kadlec said, I think there will be a vaccine that will be initially available some time 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 are probably looking at third, late second, third quarter of 2012.’

Kennedy: ‘And so you think by the late second or third quarter, we will have started to vaccinate people?’

Redfield: ‘I think the vaccination will begin in November, December, and then will pick up and it will be, you know, in a prioritized way. Those first responders and those at greatest risk for death and then, eventually, that will expand. You know, 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.’

‘It’s also the leader of the country trying to cope with a disease, a pandemic that’s killed over 100,000 people and he’s rejecting this emphatic advice that you give repeatedly and you yourselves demonstrate. Dr. Redfield, your comment .’

Redfield: ‘I’m not going to comment directly about the president but I am going to comment as the CDC director that face masks – these face masks – are the most important, powerful public health tool that we have. 

And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I’ve said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we’d bring this pandemic under control.

These  actually, we have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense. 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%. And if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.’

Trump said he called Redfield who he claimed then admitted he made a mistake under oath.

‘When I called up Robert today, I said to him, ‘What’s with the mask?’ He said, ‘I think I answered that question incorrectly.’ I think maybe he misunderstood it, I mean you know, you have two questions – maybe misunderstood both of them.’  

On Wednesday morning, Redfield testified to a Senate committee that while first responders may have access to a vaccine in November or December of 2020, most Americans wouldn’t get it until the ‘second or third quarter’ of 2021 – meaning a full year from now.    

‘We do believe that it will be widely available by the end of the year,’ the press secretary said. 

‘I think he made a mistake. I was very surprised to hear. It really doesn’t matter, we’re all set to distribute immediately,’ the president said. ‘I got the impression that he didn’t realize he said what he might have said. I didn’t see him say it.’ 

Trump even brought Dr. Scott Atlas, who’s held a number of contrarian positions on the coronavirus and is not an epidemiologist, up to the podium to provide assurance the government was prepared to distribute the vaccine imminently.  

As the briefing unfolded Biden tweeted: ‘When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump — this is what I meant.’ 

After Trump’s remarks, a spokesperson for Redfield told ABC News that he was ‘answering a question he thought was in regard to the time period in which all Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination.’

‘He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans.’  

Earlier Wednesday, the government released a ‘playbook’ to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans as early as January, with plans to start shipping them out within 24 hours of approval from regulators.   

The president originally focused his coronavirus ire on his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, who spoke in Wilmington earlier Wednesday and expressed concerns that a vaccine would be expedited to help with the president’s re-election process. 

‘So let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump – and the American people can’t either,’ Biden said there, announcing some safety standards he’d like to put in place. 

Biden also mocked a response Trump gave Tuesday night when asked why he wasn’t promoting more widespread mask-wearing, a prospect the president has balked at. 

‘He said because waiters don’t like them, waiters touch food and touch the mask,’ Biden scoffed. ‘Come on.’

‘Joe feels very safe in a mask. Maybe he doesn’t want to expose his face,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ 

‘There’s no reason for him to have masks on,’ the president added, pointing out that Biden hasn’t held large rallies, due to the Democrat being concerned about coronavirus spread.   

The ugly public differences with the CDC director came after the administration unveiled its ‘playbook’ for shipping coronavirus vaccines within 24 hours of approval from regulators.

No companies have completed testing for their coronavirus vaccines or gotten Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for them. 

Yet Trump has continued to insist that a vaccine will be ready in a matter of weeks – ahead of Election Day on November 3. 

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 possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. 

Whenever a vaccine to combat the virus that has infected more than 6.6 million Americans and killed nearly 196,000 people in the US, the Pentagon plans to be involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots.

The campaign is ‘much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,’ said the playbook for states from the CDC. 

Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday’s reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. 

‘Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?’ Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine, said in an interview with 

‘We don’t really understand the full extent of efficacy or safety of these vaccines, and each vaccine may be different. 

‘Some may prevent infection versus some [others that] will reduce the severity of illness. So it’s very complicated to understand the different variations in terms of efficacy and safety and come up with a full plan.’ 

Dr Hotez also questioned the impetus for the report, wondering whether Congress had asked to see a plan like that laid out on Wednesday, or if it was something ‘the White House is promoting.’ 

‘It escapes no one’s perspective that you’re deliberately laying [plans to have states start administering vaccines] two days before the election,’ Merkley said, asking Dr Redfield who in the White House had asked him to do so. 

When Redfield answered that ‘no one’ had, Merkley hit back that he was ‘influencing the election,’ asking ‘what happened to science driving decisions’ and said that the improbable vaccine timeline ‘undermines [the CDC’s] credibility.’  

Distribution is happening under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given what’s expected to be an emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Several formulations are undergoing final trials.

But the whole enterprise is facing public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press poll taken in May. 

To effectively protect the nation from the coronavirus, experts say upwards of 70 percent of Americans must either be vaccinated or have their own immunity from fighting off COVID-19.

Since the poll, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to help President Donald Trump’s reelection chances.

Before the Republican National Convention in August, the FDA granted authorization for treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was sufficiently strong. 

And last week it was reported that Michael Caputo, a Health and Human Services (HHS) Department political appointee with no medical or scientific qualifications or experience, tried to gain editorial control over a weekly scientific publication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

He stepped aside to deal with his own health issues after a Facebook live rant calling the CDC the ‘deep state’ and claiming its scientists want Americans to die so Biden can win.

He admitted he had ‘mental health’ issues on the video but still it took from Sunday until Wednesday for him to be removed from his role – and to be able potentially to return to it in November.


The United States is showing a slight uptick in the average number of daily coronavirus cases and deaths – as about 20 states reported increases in new infections in the past week. 

The average number of infections per day was at more than 37,000 on Tuesday after increasing steadily since the weekend. 

Cases, on average, have been trending downwards nationally since July when about 70,000 infections were being reported daily.  

Daily deaths are now averaging at just over 840 per day after the average number of fatalities dropped to 720 a week ago. 

Deaths in the US have been declining steadily since mid-August when an average of 1,000 American were dying each day. 

Twenty states have reported an uptick in cases within the last week as North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Carolina all recorded single-day highs in new infections in the last few days

Cases in Utah have been increasing the last week with more than 560 cases reported on Tuesday. Nebraska’s have been increasing since early September with the state now recording more than 38,000 cases

More than 195,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19 and there has been over 6.6 million infections. 

The uptick in cases comes after health officials had warned there could be increases following the Labor Day weekend.      

It comes as 20 states reported an uptick in cases within the last week with North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Carolina all recording single-day highs in new infections. 

South Carolina’s infection peaked at 2,454 on September 11 with the state now recording more than 133,00 cases. 

North Dakota’s cases spiked to a record 467 on September 12 and now total more than 16,000.

Cases in Wisconsin surged to a single day high of 1,624 on September 13. Infections in the state have risen 38 per cent in the last week, bringing the total to more than 96,900. 

Twelve of the 20 states that have seen increases in the last week have high case numbers in relation to the population. 

They include North Dakota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Nebraska, Kentucky, Utah and Louisiana.   

There has been a slight uptick in cases in Louisiana in the last week after a steep drop off in August (left). Texas is also among the states seeing an uptick after recording a spike of 5,300 new cases on Tuesday. Cases in the former hotspot state had been on a downward trajectory since mid-August following a summer surge (right)

There has been an uptick in cases in Missouri in the last week with the state recording a total of 105,000 cases. Cases in Oklahoma have been slowly increasing since late August with just over 1,000 cases reported on Tuesday

Trump on Monday also drew hundreds of supporters to an indoor event in Phoenix, Arizona that his campaign advertised as a ‘Latinos for Trump roundtable’. 

Trump has made the case that if demonstrators can gather en masse for protests over racial injustice, so can his supporters. His campaign has insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of those in attendance.

It comes after it emerged last week that Trump had referred to the virus as ‘deadly stuff’ in a private conversation with Bernstein’s former reporting partner Bob Woodward. 

Three days after delivering his ‘deadly’ assessment in a private call with Woodward, he told a New Hampshire rally on February 10 that ‘it’s going to be fine’.

Trump’s acknowledgment in Woodward’s new book ‘Rage’ that he was minimizing the severity of the virus in public to avoid causing panic has triggered waves of criticism that he wasn’t leveling with the American people.

The president told Woodward on March 19 that he had deliberately minimized the danger. ‘I wanted to always play it down,’ the president said. ‘I still like playing it down because I don´t want to create a panic.’   

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