WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump contradicted one of his administration's top scientists and announced Wednesday that widespread distribution of a coronavirus vaccine would begin as early as next month, further rattling the scientific and public health communities and stoking rival Joe Biden's claim that Trump can't be trusted to oversee development of a safe vaccine.
The president's announcement came hours after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, testified to Congress under oath that large-scale vaccine distribution would not begin until late spring, at the earliest. Trump told reporters he called Redfield, and said the director had misspoken.
The inconsistencies threatened to further feed many voters' worries that a rushed coronavirus vaccine could be unsafe. Biden seized on that anxiety Wednesday, warning that the president was putting Americans at risk by spreading misinformation about the virus and pressuring federal agencies to quickly deliver a breakthrough before the Nov. 3 election.
"We can't allow politics to interfere with vaccines in any way," Biden said, speaking to reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, after a briefing by public health experts. "I trust vaccines, I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump."
Trump, following with his own news conference, denounced Biden as the irresponsible party. He and other Republicans accused the Biden campaign of aligning itself with the "anti-vaxxers" spreading fear about a vaccine at a time Americans need to be reassured.
"I'm calling on Biden to stop promoting his anti-vaccine theories," Trump said. "They are recklessly endangering lives."
But mostly Trump undermined Redfield. The president promised 100 million doses of a vaccine would be delivered by the end of the year. Yet Redfield testified at length that vaccine development and distribution could take into late 2021. He also emphasized the importance of wearing masks in the meantime - a precaution Trump belittled.
For a vaccine to be "fully available to the American public, so we begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life," Redfield said, "I think we are probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021."
Trump, in arguing it was Biden who is politicizing the search for a vaccine, framed the pandemic as a blue-state problem even as cases have spiked mostly in red states. He urged Democratic governors to "open up your states," despite warnings from public health officials that the spread of COVID-19 could intensify during the fall flu season.
"They are closing it for political reasons," Trump said. "They want our numbers to be as bad as possible."