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WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday called for an outside board of scientists, not President Donald Trump, to determine whether any vaccine for the coronavirus is safe and effective.
"I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump. And at this moment, the American people can't either," the former vice president said in Wilmington, Delaware.
Speaking in a downtown theater to a group of journalists, Biden introduced his own vaccine distribution plan, which outlines when Americans should expect to get a vaccine once it is available, offers guidelines for who should have priority for vaccination, explains mechanisms for shipping and storing the vaccine, and details responsibility in the process at every level of government.
"Scientific breakthroughs don't care about calendars any more than the virus does," Biden said. "They certainly don't adhere to election cycles. And their timing, their approval, and the distribution should never, ever be distorted by political considerations."
Speaking to reporters later in the day in the White House press briefing room, Trump said his election challenger should not be rolling out a plan for distribution of a vaccine developed under his presidency.
"We came up with that vaccine. It'll be announced very soon," said the president, predicting that the first COVID-19 vaccine could be ready next month and saying the U.S. government is poised to distribute at least 100 million doses by the end of the year.
Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, however, told U.S. senators earlier Wednesday that a vaccine could be generally available to the American public in the second or third quarter of next year with those most at risk, such as the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions, along with health care workers to be prioritized for vaccination.
Trump made clear at his afternoon news conference he did not like Redfield expressing a more cautious timeline.
"I think he made a mistake when he said that. That's just incorrect information," Trump told reporters. "Under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said."
At a town hall event in Philadelphia Tuesday night organized by ABC News, Trump suggested that "a herd mentality" could make the coronavirus disappear without a vaccine.
That was an apparent reference to herd immunity, which is the theory that a virus can be eradicated after a high percentage of the population is infected, thus limiting its ability to spread.
Vanderbilt University Professor William Schaffner, a specialist in infectious diseases, told VOA that the only way to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine "is that the virus does it all by itself.
"Then the virus has to infect many, many people and make many, many people sick, put them in the hospital, and we would have many deaths of people of all ages, children, young adults, and of course, many older people and people with chronic illnesses," he said. "No, we wouldn't want that."
On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that herd immunity has "never been a strategy" of the Trump administration.
"I will say that there are a number of individuals that would indicate that herd immunity - once we get the antibodies - and you're already in ways, I believe, seeing that in New York City, because you have a lower contagion rate, because they experienced such a high," Meadows said. "But they lost so many lives, and so that is not something that the White House chose to employ."
Meadows also noted "there are a number of people out there that believe that ultimately this doesn't get solved until we reach that herd immunity population. Even some of the more renowned doctors have suggested that could possibly be, indeed, the answer."
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense released the Trump administration's strategy to deliver COVID-19 vaccine doses to the American people. But polls in the United State show the rapid tests of would-be vaccines on thousands of volunteers that are being conducted in several countries have left many Americans skeptical of whether any approved preventative will be safe.
In one Associated Press poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine, and 31% said they were unsure whether they would. Of those who said they would not get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety.
Health officials say that to protect the United States from the coronavirus, about 70% either need to be vaccinated or have antibodies against the disease.
An estimated 196,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, with another 6.6 million infected, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases around the world. Both figures are the highest for any nation.
VOA's Patsy Widakuswara and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report from Washington.