CDC Director Robert Redfield has walked back his Senate testimony that masks work better against COVID-19 than vaccines, after Donald Trump called him 'confused' and 'mistaken' and dismissed his claims a vaccine will not be available until next year.
Redfield told a Senate committee Wednesday 'this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine' and said a vaccine wouldn't be widely available to Americans until the second quarter of 2021.
Hours later Trump hit back at Redfield saying the CDC head was 'confused' and must have 'misunderstood' the question being asked of him.
The president said he had called Redfield to set the record straight and said the CDC boss had agreed he 'answered that question incorrectly' about the masks.
Redfield responded on social media Wednesday evening, where he appeared to bow to pressure from the president insisting 'I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine'.
The top virologist clarified he meant the current 'best defense' against the virus is masks and other 'mitigation efforts' while there is no vaccine yet on the market.
CDC Director Robert Redfield has walked back his Senate testimony that masks work better against COVID-19 than vaccines, after Donald Trump called him 'confused' and 'mistaken' and dismissed his claims a vaccine will not be available until next year
Redfield responded on social media Wednesday evening, where he appeared to bow to pressure from the president insisting 'I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines'
'I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,' Redfield wrote on Twitter.
'The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.'
Social media users gave a mixed response to the virologist's tweets, with some calling on him to resign for changing his advice on the deadly virus at the behest of Trump.
'Are you confused and/or mistaken? I saw you give sworn testimony this morning. Trump says you were wrong and that he called you about it,' one person tweeted.
'Would you change your testimony after taking that phone call from him? You really should resign.'
Others urged him to stand by his testimony and said he would have 'blood on your hands' if he bowed to pressure from Trump.
'Most important moment of your life. If you have an ounce of integrity, you will stick to your testimony and refute the president,' one person tweeted.
Another wrote: 'Please stand your ground and stand behind your statement. We need someone we can trust with this very important information.
'The American people need you to take a stand. We need you and the qualified doctors and science to do the speaking. Please.'
Social media users gave a mixed response to the virologist's tweets, with some calling on him to resign for changing his advice on the deadly virus at the behest of Trump and others urging him to stand his ground against the president
Redfield's somewhat backpedaling came after Trump contradicted his testimony saying the virologist was 'confused' and 'made a mistake' when he told Congress a coronavirus vaccine wouldn't be widely available until the second quarter of next year.
Trump also said Dr. Robert Redfield must have 'misunderstood' a question when he told a Senate committee, '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.'
Trump opened a major public dispute with one of his most senior doctors at a freewheeling, almost hour-long coroanvirus briefing at which he also disclosed that a White House staff member had tested positive but said: 'They were nowhere near me.'
In what appeared to be a repeat of his public feuds with Dr. Tony Fauci - and his contradiction of his own weather forecasters over Hurricane Dorian - he repeatedly claimed the CDC director's sworn evidence to the Senate was confused, mistaken and that he did not understand the question.
Trump had tried to start the briefing by accusing Joe Biden of being anti-vaccine after the Democratic candidate said he 'trusted scientists, the vaccine, but not Donald Trump,' but instead found himself divided from his own senior medical experts - on a day when both numbers and deaths showed the first uptick since July.
'No, the mask is not more important than the vaccine,' Trump said, telling reporters he called Redfield earlier Wednesday to set him straight.
'Maybe he misunderstood both of them,' he said of the two questions posed to Redfield by U.S. senators that morning.
President Donald Trump contradicted his own CDC chief at Wednesday's press briefing, calling Dr. Robert Redfield 'confused' and 'mistaken' for saying vaccines wouldn't be widely available until halfway through 2021 and masks work better than vaccines
Dr. Robert Redfield testified Wednesday morning before a Senate committee and said a ' face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.' He also said a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn't be widely available until quarter two or three of 2021
Told you so: How Joe Biden reacted during the freewheeling White House briefing
Dr. Robert Redfield was testifying to senators when John Kennedy (R-LA) asked him:
'Tell me when you think you'll have a vaccine - as best you can - ready to administer to the public, Dr. Redfield.'
Redfield: 'Well as I think Dr. Kadlec said, I think there will be a vaccine that will be initially available some time between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized.
'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 are probably looking at third, late second, third quarter of 2012.'
Kennedy: 'And so you think by the late second or third quarter, we will have started to vaccinate people?'
Redfield: 'I think the vaccination will begin in November, December, and then will pick up and it will be, you know, in a prioritized way. Those first responders and those at greatest risk for death and then, eventually, that will expand. You know, hard to believe, but there's about 80 million people in our country that have significant co-morbidities that put themselves at risk. They have to get vaccinated. And then the general public.'
He was later asked by Jack Reed (D-RI):
'It's also the leader of the country trying to cope with a disease, a pandemic that's killed over 100,000 people and he's rejecting this emphatic advice that you give repeatedly and you yourselves demonstrate. Dr. Redfield, your comment .'
Redfield: 'I'm not going to comment directly about the president but I am going to comment as the CDC director that face masks - these face masks - are the most important, powerful public health tool that we have.
And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I've said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we'd bring this pandemic under control.
These actually, we have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense. 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, because the immunogenicity may be 70%. And if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.'
Trump said he called Redfield who he claimed then admitted he made a mistake under oath.
'When I called up Robert today, I said to him, 'What's with the mask?' He said, 'I think I answered that question incorrectly.' I think maybe he misunderstood it, I mean you know, you have two questions - maybe misunderstood both of them.'
But during a lengthy briefing, Trump said he still had confidence in Redfield.
'I do, I do,' he answered.
But he continued to say Redfield heard wrong.
'He sort of, I think, maybe misunderstood a question,' Trump said again.
On Wednesday morning, Redfield testified to a Senate committee that while first responders may have access to a vaccine in November or December of 2020, most Americans wouldn't get it until the 'second or third quarter' of 2021 - meaning a full year from now.
By early afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had disputed that timeline.
'We do believe that it will be widely available by the end of the year,' the press secretary said.
And Trump reiterated that claim later in the day.
'I think he made a mistake. I was very surprised to hear. It really doesn't matter, we're all set to distribute immediately,' the president said. 'I got the impression that he didn't realize he said what he might have said. I didn't see him say it.'
Trump even brought Dr. Scott Atlas, who's held a number of contrarian positions on the coronavirus and is not an epidemiologist, up to the podium to provide assurance the government was prepared to distribute the vaccine imminently.
As the briefing unfolded Biden tweeted: 'When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump — this is what I meant.'
After Trump's remarks, a spokesperson for Redfield told ABC News that he was 'answering a question he thought was in regard to the time period in which all Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination.'
'He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans.'
Earlier Wednesday, the government released a 'playbook' to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans as early as January, with plans to start shipping them out within 24 hours of approval from regulators.
Trump also said of Redfield, 'Maybe he doesn't understand the distribution process.'
The president originally focused his coronavirus ire on his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, who spoke in Wilmington earlier Wednesday and expressed concerns that a vaccine would be expedited to help with the president's re-election process.
'So let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump - and the American people