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CDC director Robert Redfield suggested in a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that face masks are "more guaranteed" to protect against the coronavirus than a vaccine, citing the potential for some people to not become immune to the virus after receiving the shot.

What he's saying: "These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I've said if we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control," he said.

  • "I 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. Because the immunogenicity may be 70%, and if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me. This face mask will."

The big picture: While face masks are one of the best COVID-19 mitigation strategies we currently have, a vaccine remains the best long-term solution. A number of coronavirus vaccines are now in phase 3 trials, including candidates from Oxford and Moderna that produced immune responses in tests this summer.

  • Wearing face masks "could result in a large reduction in risk of infection," according to a June review of 172 studies looking at the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses.
  • Mask mandates in 15 states plus D.C. early in the pandemic may have helped to avert at least 230,000 coronavirus cases by May 22, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

What to watch: Redfield told the subcommittee that he believes there will be a "very limited supply" of a vaccine between November and December, and that "we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter of 2021" for widespread distribution.

  • That's in line with comments from NIAID director Anthony Fauci, who has said he believes a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available to the public by late 2020 or early 2021 — allowing the U.S. and other countries to get back to "a degree of normality."

Go deeper

Dec 24, 2020 - Health

Mexico becomes first Latin American country to vaccinate against COVID

A nurse was the first person in Mexico to receive the vcaccine. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty

Mexico became the first Latin American country to begin coronavirus vaccinations, amid a surge in cases, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The serum arrives as Mexico's hospitals reach a breaking point. The country tallies over 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and 120,000 deaths, per John Hopkins University data, though actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Dec 23, 2020 - Health

Why Americans will demand to be able to prove they're vaccinated

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

You've received a coronavirus vaccination — but can you prove it? The answer to that question will help determine how the global economy functions for the next few years.

Why it matters: The federal government will probably neither mandate nor encourage digital immunity passports or other proofs of vaccination. But privately-operated digital certificates are already being developed — and U.S. law means that anybody who gets vaccinated here should be able to obtain the proof they need.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.