Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield claimed masks offer more protection against coronavirus than vaccines – at least for the foreseeable future.
‘I could say this face mask protects me more from covid than when I take a vaccine,’ said Dr. Redfield during his testimony on Wednesday before a Senate subcommittee.
He pointed out that there is more research to clearly show that masks work to block the spread of infectious particles while vaccines are still being tested and their true efficacy will not be fully apparent until large groups of people have been dosed.
Dr. Redfield came as part of the same testimony in which he and other officials presented a plan to give all Americans free coronavirus vaccines and distribute them to the general public in January.
CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said on Wednesday that masks offer more ‘guaranteed’ protection against coronavirus than future vaccines because there is more scientific evidence that they work than unproven shots.
But the CDC head ran back on the optimism of the “ playbook ” and Trump himself, estimating that vaccines won’t be widely available to Americans until spring or summer next year.
Trump insists a vaccine is only ‘weeks’ away, hinting at his hope that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve one ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
The CDC director’s clear endorsement of masks and sobering take on vaccines was typical of his tense day before the Senate on Wednesday.
While trying to dampen expectations set by the “playbook” for spreading coronavirus vaccines, published by his agency in conjunction with other health agencies and the Department of Defense, Dr. Redfield also had to push back criticism.
The CDC’s game plan assumes that by January 2021, tens of millions of doses of a vaccine will be available to send to Americans for free – not just front-line workers.
That, in turn, assumes approval of a shot by the end of next month.
Health experts, including Dr. Redfield have said that is possible, but not likely.
Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, accused the CDC of being politically motivated to create a timeline for vaccine development and release fit for President Trump’s reelection campaign.
Dr. Redfield was accused his agency had sworn to pressure from the Trump administration pushing for a vaccine to be ready on election day
‘Nobody misses the perspective that you are deliberately lying [plans to have states start administering vaccines] two days before the election, ”Merkley said, asking Dr. Redfield who asked him to do so at the White House.
When Redfield replied that ‘no one’ had done it, Merkley hit back that he ‘influenced the election,’ asked ‘what happened to the scientific driving force behind decisions’ and said that the unlikely vaccine timeline’ undermines [the CDC’s] credibility.’
Dr. Redfield stood up for his agency, claiming that the timeline was “ independently developed by our subject matter experts. ”
But he also said a vaccine probably wouldn’t be widely available until much later than the “ playbook ” suggested.
He also measured expectations about the efficacy of a possible vaccine, warning that the world in general has little data on what protective vaccines will provide.
“Masks are the most powerful and most important public health tool we have,” he said.
“We have clear scientific evidence that they work and they are our best defense.”
In contrast, for a vaccine, “the immunogenicity can be 70 percent, and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine may not protect me,” said Dr. Redfield.
The FDA has set the bar for a vaccine it would consider approving with 50 percent efficacy.
But that means it may only prevent infection in half of those who get the injection.
In early studies, the three main vaccine candidates – AstraZenecas, Modernas and Pfizers – all elicited some antibody production in subjects.
What remains unknown is how important an immune response must be to provide protection, and how long that shield can last.
Masks are simpler and their effects are clearer. Research has found that wearing face masks reduces your risk of COVID-19 by as much as 65 percent.
They are also thought to reduce the amount of potentially infectious particles a person can expel into the air by about a third.