US president Donald Trump has clashed with the Democrats over measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, accusing his rivals of “disparaging” for political gain a vaccine he has said could be available before the election.
He told a White House news conference: “It’s so dangerous for our country, what they say, but the vaccine will be very safe and very effective.”
Mr Trump levelled the accusation a day after Senator Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, said she “would not trust his word” on getting the vaccine.
“I would trust the word of public health experts and scientists, but not Donald Trump,” Ms Harris said.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden amplified Ms Harris’ comments on Monday after he was asked if he would get a vaccine for Covid-19. Mr Biden said he would take a vaccine but wants to see what the scientists have to say, too.
Mr Biden said Mr Trump has said “so many things that aren’t true, I’m worried if we do have a really good vaccine, people are going to be reluctant to take it. So he’s undermining public confidence”.
But the former vice president added: “If I could get a vaccine tomorrow I’d do it, if it would cost me the election I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now.”
The back-and-forth over a coronavirus vaccine played out as three of the candidates fanned out across the country on Labour Day, the traditional start of the two-month sprint to the election. Ms Harris and vice president Mike Pence campaigned in Wisconsin and Mr Biden went to Pennsylvania.
Ms Harris, a California Democrat, said in a CNN interview that she would not trust a coronavirus vaccine if one were ready at the end of the year because “there’s very little that we can trust that… comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth”. She argued that scientists would be “muzzled” because Mr Trump is focused on getting re-elected.
Mr Trump dismissed her comments as “reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric” designed to detract from the effort to quickly ready a vaccine for a disease that has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and infected more than 6 million others, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
“She’s talking about disparaging a vaccine so that people don’t think the achievement was a great achievement,” Mr Trump said. “They’ll say anything.”
Mr Trump insisted he has not said a vaccine could be ready before November, although he has said so repeatedly and as recently as Friday.
The president then proceeded to say what he had just denied ever saying.
“What I said is by the end of the year, but I think it could even be sooner that that,” he said about a vaccine. “It could be during the month of October, actually could be before November.”
Under a programme Mr Trump calls Operation Warp Speed, the goal is to have 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine in stock by January. He has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on what amounts to a huge gamble since vaccine development usually takes years.