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CDC's Redfield: Facemasks more powerful than vaccines in COVID-19 battle

CDC Director Robert Redfield told a Senate committee on Wednesday that masks are the most important tool we have in the fight against COVID-19. Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI
CDC Director Robert Redfield told a Senate committee on Wednesday that masks "are the most important tool we have" in the fight against COVID-19. Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Facemasks offer more individual protection against COVID-19 than any potential vaccine, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told lawmakers Wednesday.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Redfield described face coverings as "the most powerful public health tool we have" to prevent spread of the new coronavirus.

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"I appeal to all Americans to embrace these face coverings," Redfield said.

"We have clear scientific evidence that they work and they are our best defense," he said, adding that he "might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine."

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A vaccine with 70% immunity, depending on a person's immune response to the vaccine, may not protect as well as a mask does, he said.

Research has suggested that cloth face coverings and surgical masks are most effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The coverings and masks have been shown to block at least some of the release of airborne respiratory droplets containing the virus when the wearer breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.

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The CDC has been recommending that Americans wear face coverings since the outbreak began in the United States in the spring.

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It will likely be "summer or early autumn 2021" before most U.S. citizens can receive the vaccinations, Redfield also said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump disputed this timeline later Wednesday during a press briefing, suggesting that perhaps Redfield misunderstood the question.

"I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information," he said.

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Trump also suggested that Redfield was confused when he said face masks may be more effective than a vaccine in some cases.

"It's not more effective by any means than a vaccine and I called him about that, those were the two things I discussed with him," Trump said. "I believe if you asked him he would probably say that he didn't understand the question."

The Trump administration has indicated plans to start distributing any vaccine within 24 hours of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though officials note it may not be widely available until 2021.

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