Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday that wearing a mask probably offers better protection against COVID-19 than will a vaccine.
Redfield made the surprising remark to a Senate subcommittee, as the Defense Department on Wednesday unfurled plans to mass-distribute a vaccine as early as this year, in a key step to end the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me than the vaccine because the immunogenicity might only be 70 percent and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This mask will,” Redfield testified.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Sunday that the company should know in October if its vaccine candidate works. There are many other candidates and the US government is stockpiling potential vaccines in case any prove effective and safe.
The Defense Department plan released Wednesday calls for rapid distribution of a vaccine. Although President Trump asserted Tuesday in an ABC News town hall that a vaccine could be three to four weeks away, administration officials made it clear to reporters on a call Wednesday that widespread availability would take months.
Among the highlights of the plan:
— For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drugmaker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.
— Vaccination of the U.S. population won’t be a sprint but a marathon. Initially there may be a limited supply of vaccines, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups.
Robert RedfieldGetty Images
“Early in (the) COVID-19 vaccination program there may be a limited supply of vaccine and vaccine efforts may focus on those critical to the response, providing direct care and maintaining societal functions, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness,” Redfield said. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire population.
The vaccine itself will be free of charge, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration. The goal is that patients won’t be separately charged for administration of their shots, and officials say they are working to ensure that’s the case for all Medicare recipients and uninsured people as well those covered by insurance at their jobs.
— States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans.
— A massive information technology effort will be needed to track who is getting which vaccines and when, and the key challenge involves getting multiple public and private databases to link with each other.
President Trump has blasted Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) for questioning the potential efficacy of any vaccine developed during the Trump administration.
Redfield’s opinion on masks, meanwhile, has varied widely during the pandemic. At a previous congressional hearing, he spoke with one covering his mouth but not his nose.
Redfield and other health officials spoke unmasked during daily White House coronavirus press briefings in March and April and he initially did not encourage the public to wear them.
At an April 22 briefing, Redfield said masks protect against transmitting but not against contracting the virus.
“Some people may think, intuitively, it’s to protect them from getting infected. No, it was to protect you from potentially getting infected by me when I go out in public,” Redfield said.
Widely available N-95 masks filter 95 percent of particles in air. Other face coverings, such as simple surgical masks or cloth coverings, have lower filtration rates.
With Associated Press