Biden, Trump battle over prospect of coronavirus vaccine delivered before Election Day

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(NBC) – Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump on Monday agreed on the need for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

But the two presidential contenders, during dueling Labor Day events, clashed over just how much the current White House occupant can be trusted when it comes to delivering.

Biden was asked by reporters at a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, if he would take a COVID-19 vaccine if the Trump administration offered one prior to Election Day. A day earlier, his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had said that she would not solely trust Trump’s word on the safety of any vaccine rolled out to be public prior to the election — comments the former vice president echoed.

“I would want to see what the scientists said,” Biden said, insisting he would want “full transparency” from the administration on any potential vaccine. He added that he is “worried if we do have a really good vaccine people are going to be reluctant to take it” because Trump “is undermining public confidence” in the process.

“If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it,” Biden added. “If it cost me the election, I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now. As quickly as we can get it. We have to listen to the scientists.”

A few hours away in Washington, D.C., Trump, speaking at a news conference from the North Portico of the White House, demanded that Biden and Harris apologize for their vaccine remarks and again pledged to “produce a vaccine in record time.”

Biden and Harris “should immediately apologize for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric that they are talking right now, talking about endangering lives, and it undermines science, and what’s happening is all of the sudden, you’ll have this incredible vaccine, and because of that fake rhetoric — it’s a political rhetoric, that’s all it is, just for politics,” Trump said.

“This could have taken two or three years, and instead, it’s going to be, going to be done in a very short period of time,” Trump said. “Could even have it during the month of October.”

Trump added “the vaccine will be very safe and very effective, and it will be delivered very soon.”

Experts have cast doubt on the ability to turn around a vaccine as quickly as Trump has suggested.

Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Harris was asked if she would trust a vaccine Trump said was ready prior to the election.

“I think that we have learned since this pandemic started, but really before that, that there’s very little that we can trust that can comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth,” she said, adding Trump “has created false expectations for the American people and American families.”

The president, she said, has prioritized what is “politically expedient” over public health.

“And so, no, I would not trust his word,” she said. “I would trust the word of public health experts and scientists, but not Donald Trump.”

But she thinks those public health experts won’t have the final word.

“If past is prologue, that they will not, that will be muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader on this issue, when he has not,” she said.

Trump has promoted his administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” program, which is designed to help get a vaccine candidate across the finish line more quickly. But his predictions for when a vaccine could be widely available runs counter to when most scientists and medical experts believe a vaccine will be ready for widespread use. Plus, as both Biden and Harris have pointed out, Trump has made a litany of false statements and assertions related to the coronavirus and treatments for the disease it causes, limiting his credibility on such matters.

Speaking with NPR last week, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientific adviser, said he believes a vaccine will be available by the end of the year for some high-risk groups, and that it is “extremely unlikely” a vaccine will be ready by late October — though even a small chance is worth properly preparing for. Immunizing the entire U.S. population would take until the middle of next year, Slaoui predicted.

The back-and-forth occured as the Biden-Harris ticket participated in Labor Day events and the president’s White House news conference dominated his holiday schedule. Biden spoke at a roundtable of union workers in Lancaster before appearing at an event alongside AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at their union headquarters in Harrisburg. Harris visited Milwaukee, where she toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers facility and then took part in a roundtable with Black business owners.

During his Harrisburg event, Biden again slammed Trump over his reported remarks in an Atlantic story from last week, in which Trump reportedly called dead U.S. service members “losers” and “suckers” in 2018.

Biden called the remarks “downright un-American” and that his late son Beau Biden, a veteran, “wasn’t a loser or a sucker.”

“if that’s how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being our president,” he said, adding that organized labor would “never have a better friend” in the White House than himself, should he be elected this fall.

Trump and both current and former administration officials have denied the report’s accuracy, with Trump saying Monday that only an “animal” would say such things. But Trump also suggested at his press conference that military leadership was loyal only to the military-industrial complex, while service members “loved” him.

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