The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield, claimed that masks – at least in the near future – offer safer protection against coronavirus than vaccines.
"I could say that this face mask protects me more from Covid than if I take a vaccine," said Dr. Redfield during his testimony before a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday.
He pointed out that there is more research that clearly shows that masks block the spread of infectious particles while vaccines are still being tested and their true effectiveness only becomes clear after dosing large groups of people.
Dr. Redfield's comments came as part of the same testimony in which he and other officials unveiled a plan to give free coronavirus vaccines to all Americans and distribute them to the general public in January.
CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday that masks offer "guaranteed" protection against coronavirus than potential vaccines, as there is more scientific evidence to show that they work than previously unproven recordings
But the CDC chief diminished the optimism of the "playbook" and of Trump himself, estimating that vaccines will not be widely available to Americans until next spring or summer.
Trump continues to insist that a vaccine is only a few weeks away, while also hinting at his hope that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve a vaccine before the November 3rd election.
The CDC director's apparent approval of masks and sobering view of vaccines were typical of his tense day before the Senate on Wednesday.
While Dr. Redfield attempted to soften the "playbook" expectations for the distribution of coronavirus vaccines published by his agency in collaboration with other health officials and the Department of Defense, but also had to fight back criticism.
The CDC's schedule assumes that by January 2021, tens of millions of doses of a vaccine will be available that can be freely sent to Americans – not just on the front lines.
This in turn requires approval of a shot by the end of next month.
Health experts, including Dr. Redfield, have said that this is possible, but not likely.
Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, accused the CDC of being politically motivated to set up a vaccine development and release schedule suitable for President Trump's re-election campaign.
Dr. Redfield has been accused of bowing to pressure from the Trump administration for a vaccine to be ready by election day
"It never escapes anyone's perspective that you are deliberately laying down (plans for states to 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 "nobody" did this, Merkley hit back that he "influenced the election" and asked "what happens to scientific decisions" saying that the unlikely vaccination schedule "undermines the CDC's credibility".
Dr. Redfield stood up for his agency, claiming the schedule was "independently developed by our subject matter experts".
But he also said that a vaccine would probably not be available until much later than suggested in the "playbook".
He also tempered expectations about the effectiveness of a potential vaccine, warning that the world really has little data on a grand scale on what protective vaccines will offer.
"Masks are the most powerful and most important public health tool we have," he said.
"We have clear scientific evidence that they work and are our best defense."
With a vaccine, however, "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 that will be considered for approval when it is 50 percent effective.
However, this means that infection may only be prevented in half of those who receive the shot.
In early studies, the top three vaccine candidates – AstraZenecas, Modernas, and Pfizers – elicited some antibody production in study participants.
It remains unknown how important an immune response has to be to provide protection and how long this shield can last.
Masks are simpler and their effects are clearer. Research has shown that wearing a face mask reduces your risk of COVID-19 infection by up to 65 percent.
It is also believed to reduce the amount of potentially infectious particles a person can expel into the air by about a third.
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