President Donald Trump once again promised that a COVID-19 vaccine for Americans could be ready within weeks, a timeline faster than has been deemed possible or likely by the scientific agencies overseeing the effort and the companies developing the products.
Trump's optimistic promises have left him in a battle with the realities of time, the deadline of the election, and the increasing skepticism of the stock market that he frequently cites as a barometer of his success. On Thursday, stocks continued a two-day slide, underscoring the skepticism on Wall Street that a vaccine is near.
On Tuesday, Trump said at an event hosted by ABC that it "could be three, four weeks, but we think we have it."
On Wednesday, Trump said that vaccine distribution could start sometime in October. "That'll be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that, but we'll be all set," he said.
And on Thursday morning, Trump said a vaccine will be ready "either before or just shortly after" Election Day on Nov. 3. Taken together, Trump is promising a vaccine for some part of the American public between Oct. 6 and early November.
But Trump's own health experts have said they expect a vaccine at the earliest by November or December, if everything goes perfectly. For most Americans it will take until well into next year to get the shots, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci. In addition, the head of Trump's vaccine effort, Moncef Slaoui, has said recently that it's "extremely unlikely" that a vaccine will be ready by Nov. 3.
The result is a strange moment in which the part of the government with the most to gain politically is openly arguing with the federal scientific agencies that have the most to lose reputationally. The administration seems unable to agree on a basic set of facts about the vaccines. At stake is the U.S. economy, the education of millions of American children, the resumption of normal life for the country, political control of the White House, and tens or hundreds of thousands of lives.
With each pushback by the health agencies, Trump or his deputies have questioned their expertise. On Wednesday night at a news conference, Trump said Redfield had spoken in error when he said a vaccine would take until the middle of next year for much of the American public.
"I think he misunderstood the questions," Trump said.
And on Thursday morning, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also questioned Redfield's knowledge.