Top health official earlier said face coverings could be more effective than vaccine at keeping pandemic at bay

President also claims CDC director was ‘confused’ when he said US public would not be likely to have access to Covid-19 vaccine until next summer or fall

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday twice contradicted his own CDC director – on mask-wearing and vaccine distribution – saying the country’s top public health official misspoke when he was testifying under oath before a congressional committee earlier in the day.

Robert Redfield told the Senate Appropriations Committee that wearing a mask could be more effective than a coronavirus vaccine at keeping the pandemic at bay. “If I don’t get an immune response [from a Covid-19] vaccine it’s not going to protect me. This face mask will,” he said.

Trump said Redfield was mistaken. “No, the mask is not as important as the vaccine,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing Wednesday, adding that he called up the CDC director to discuss his remarks to Congress. “As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake.”

Trump also took issue with Redfield’s remarks to Congress suggesting that the US general public likely would not have access to a coronavirus vaccine until next summer or fall.

“It’s just incorrect information,” Trump said. “When he said it, I believe he was confused … It’s going to be a much faster distribution process.”

Trump told reporters that once the FDA approves a vaccine, his administration plans to distribute as many as 100 million doses by the end of the year, with health care workers and vulnerable populations getting prioritised, adding that the broader public would have access to the vaccine soon after.

Redfield just hours earlier told the Senate Appropriations Committee it will take about six to nine months to get the American public vaccinated from the date a vaccine is approved.

Scott Atlas, who advises the president on the coronavirus, told reporters the administration estimates roughly 700 million vaccines could be distributed to the public by the end of March, offering a more optimistic timeline than Redfield. Most of the vaccines in development would require two doses per person.

The CDC released its ambitious plan on Wednesday to distribute and administer Covid-19 vaccines, involving HHS as well as the Defence Department.

Doses could be available as early as November to specific populations, though final decisions on who will be prioritised will be made down the road. Atlas said minority populations and older adults would be among those groups.

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