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Meadows disputes CDC director's vaccine timeline

The Hill logo The Hill 9/17/2020 Morgan Chalfant
a man wearing a suit and tie: Meadows disputes CDC director's vaccine timeline © Bonnie Cash Meadows disputes CDC director's vaccine timeline

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Thursday joined President Trump in pushing back against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield's comments on a timeline for a possible coronavirus vaccine, saying Redfield was not clued into what those "closest to the process" know about vaccine distribution.

Meadows was asked on "Fox & Friends" about Trump's comments Wednesday disputing Redfield's congressional testimony that a vaccine would not be available to the general American public until mid-2021.

Trump told reporters that Redfield made a "mistake" and was "confused" by questions from lawmakers, insisting that a vaccine would be available to the public "immediately" once it is deemed viable.

"If I were a betting man, I would bet on President Trump," Meadows told the hosts. "Based on what I know behind the scenes, how quickly we are moving on the clinical trials, I think that we will at least have some results in October and as we start to look at those results, I can tell you the president is pushing very hard to make sure that we're delivering a vaccine before the end of the year."

"I'm not sure where Dr. Redfield got his particular timetable, but it is not based on those that are closest to the process," Meadows continued.

The CDC was among the parties who authored reports to Congress and states laying out vaccine distribution plans that were unveiled on Wednesday.

In a later conversation with reporters, Meadows again disputed Redfield's testimony on the timeline, saying that pharmaceutical companies, not the CDC, are developing vaccines and that the White House is working with multiple agencies within the federal government beyond CDC to plan for their deployment and distribution.

Meadows told reporters that the Trump administration is aiming to have 100 million vials ready for distribution to vulnerable populations, namely the elderly, by the end of October and upward of 300 million doses ready sometime in January.

"We believe that we can get the vast majority of those at risk with a distribution model that would be available at the end of October," Meadows told reporters.

Meadows also said that he wasn't implying that Redfield wasn't part of the vaccine process, but that the CDC director is "not closest to the decision making as it relates to the clinical 3 trials and the distribution thereof."

Trump's comments on Wednesday represented the latest example of the president breaking with top health officials.

Trump also publicly disagreed with Redfield regarding his comments on the efficacy of masks to protect against COVID-19, after Redfield suggested in his testimony that masks are more guaranteed to be effective than a vaccine. Redfield later sought to clarify his comments on masks in a series of tweets.

Trump has repeatedly forecast a quick timeline for a would-be coronavirus vaccine, causing Democrats and health experts to express concerns about political pressure in the rush to produce one.

Redfield told lawmakers on Wednesday that a vaccine was likely to be available sometime between November and December, but that the general public would not have access to it until the second or third quarter of 2021.

"I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized," Redfield said during the hearing. "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're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021."

The president has repeatedly offered different assessments of the threat and trajectory of the virus than health officials who are members of the White House coronavirus task force. For example, Trump recently has insisted the U.S. is "rounding the turn" on the virus, remarks that Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said he disagrees with.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Meadows also dismissed Trump's frequent contradictions of his top health officials, saying that "you're going to have contradictory information all the time" and that the president's priority is to develop therapeutics and a vaccine to combat the virus.

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