United States President Donald Trump said on 15 September that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month — bettering his previous optimistic statement — but added that the pandemic could go away by itself! “We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania.
“We’re within weeks of getting it you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he said. Hours earlier, the president had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”
Democrats are expectedly picking a bone. They say the president is exerting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to prematurely approve a vaccine to help turn around his electoral fortune against challenger Joe Biden on 3 November.
Experts like top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely towards the end of the year.
At the ABC town hall, reporters asked Trump why he had downplayed the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US. The president replied, “I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”
But Trump had told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book Rage (now published) that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.
Trump insisted “it is going to disappear.” “It would go away without the vaccine but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” the president said.
The journalists were sceptical. But the president said, “You’ll develop like a herd mentality,” apparently meaning herd immunity when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.
“It’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we’re rounding the corner,” he said.
The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”
Asked what people he meant, Trump answered: “Waiters.”
“They come over and they serve you and they have a mask,” he said. “I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens: They’re playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate, and that can’t be good.”
Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the health crisis.