Donald Trump said he expected a coronavirus vaccine to be available for every American by April, a more optimistic forecast than many US government scientists, just hours after the federal public health agency reversed testing guidance imposed by the president’s allies.
Mr Trump and his allies have repeatedly clashed with public health officials over how to tackle coronavirus, and on Friday the president insisted that he often knows more about such issues than experts such as Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While he agreed with Dr Redfield’s assessment that a vaccine will be widely available some time between April and September, he told a White House press conference he also thought it could be much earlier than that.
“We will have manufactured at least 100m vaccine doses before the end of the year,” Mr Trump said. “Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect enough vaccines for every American by April.”
Asked whether he believed he knew more about such matters than experts such as Dr Redfield, Mr Trump replied: “In many cases I do.”
Mr Trump made his comments soon after the CDC reversed controversial guidelines put in place last month, which said a test was not necessarily recommended for those without symptoms, even if they had come into contact with someone with the virus.
Officials told the Financial Times that the guidelines were decided by political appointees in the health department who were hoping to please the president. Mr Trump has said that reducing the number of tests would bring down the official US case count, which would in turn encourage states to lift restrictions that have weighed on economic activity.
The president’s projection came hours before data showed the US had its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections in two weeks, with a total of 19 states reporting more than 1,000 new cases each.
A further 47,486 people in the US tested positive for the disease, according to Covid Tracking Project data, while the national death toll rose by 901. The total number of fatalities in southern states since the start of the pandemic reached 65,332 on Friday, exceeding the death toll for the US north-east for the first time in six months.
The CDC on Friday announced it was reversing its position so that people who have come into contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus but do not have symptoms will once more be recommended to get a test.
The change came days after a close ally of Mr Trump stood down from his role at the health department after accusing CDC scientists of being part of a conspiracy to undermine the president.
Michael Caputo on Wednesday said he was taking a two-month leave of absence for health reasons after hosting a live event on Facebook during which he accused people at the CDC of forming a “resistance unit” to harm Mr Trump and help his Democratic presidential rival, Joe Biden.
Mr Caputo reportedly apologised to staff for his comments on Tuesday, a day before he announced he would stand down from his post, blaming his comments on stress brought on by a “lymphatic issue”.
Mr Caputo’s resignation came soon after Mr Trump publicly contradicted Dr Redfield over the CDC chief’s comments that wearing a mask could be a better way to protect against the virus than receiving a vaccine.
The president, who has been keen to talk up the chances of a rapid and effective vaccine and talk down the effectiveness of masks, called Dr Redfield “just incorrect”.
Additional reporting by Peter Wells in New York