Donald Trump has insisted that a vaccine will be ready “in weeks” despite his own health expert’s prediction that it won’t be ready for the public until the middle of next year.
Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that key workers and those at high risk may get a vaccine in January but it was unlikely to be available to the public before late spring or early summer 2021.
However, speaking at a White House press conference on Wednesday, the US president quickly rejected this timeline, saying that the vaccine will be rolled out “sometime in October”.
Mr Trump also disagreed with Dr Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks – which the president recommends but almost never wears – and said he would telephone the CDC director to tell him.
It comes amid speculation that Mr Trump’s push for a vaccine ahead of November’s election is politically motivated.
During the congressional hearing, Dr Redfield said that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year.
However, he said it was unlikely to be available more broadly before late spring or summer.
Dr Redfield also spoke emphatically of the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
He floated the possibility that a vaccine might be 70 per cent effective in inducing immunity, and said: “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.”
But Mr Trump undermined Dr Redfield’s comments, saying: “We think we can start sometime in October,” when asked about when vaccines would be rolled out.
The president also disagreed about masks, saying: “Vaccine is much more effective than the mask.”
Earlier this week, he told a town hall special in Philadelphia: “We’re very close to having a vaccine.
“If you want to know the truth, the previous administration would have taken perhaps years to have a vaccine because of the FDA and all the approvals.
“And we’re within weeks of getting it… Could be three weeks, four weeks.”.
The president made the prediction even though the vaccine is still being tested in human subjects.
Meanwhile, some health experts have said they believe a safe and highly effective vaccine is several months way, if not much longer.
Earlier this week, the CDC sent all 50 states a “playbook” for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective.
Adding to logistical complications, vaccines likely will have to be given in two doses spaced weeks apart and will have to be refrigerated.
Dr Redfield said states are not ready to deal with the demand for such a distribution and some 6 billion (£4.62 billion) in new funding would be needed to get the nation prepared.
Unswayed, Mr Trump said: “We’re ready to move, and I think it will be full distribution.”
The vaccine would not be broadly available until the spring or summer 2021, Dr Redfield estimated.
He also rejected questions about whether the CDC’s timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by November 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,” Dr Redfield told Senate lawmakers.
“There was absolutely no political thinking about it.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said while campaigning that he trusts what scientists say about a potential vaccine – but not Mr Trump.
Mr Biden has said he would take a vaccine “tomorrow” if it were available but he would want to “see what the scientists said” first.
As for the planned vaccine campaign, Dr Redfield said his agency will be working with state health officials to implement the preparations in coming days.