Vaccine Hesitancy Could Stall Economic Recovery

Woman wearing mask getting a shot in her arm.
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Only around half of adults in the U.S. definitely plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, polling shows, a number that will likely have important implications for how fast the economy recovers.

In new questions about attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines, the latest U.S. Census Bureau “Household Pulse Survey” —taken Jan. 6-Jan. 18—showed 51% of those who hadn’t gotten a vaccine would definitely get one when it became available to them. Nearly 26% probably would get the vaccine, about 14% probably wouldn’t get the vaccine, and 9.5% definitely wouldn’t. Meanwhile, 7.7% of respondents had already received a vaccine.

The key to the country’s economic recovery may center on how many people who are at least somewhat resistant to being vaccinated end up getting immunized. (Right now, not everyone is eligible to receive the vaccine due to limited supply.) The magic number for herd immunity is between 61% and 81% of adults, according to an analysis by McKinsey & Co.

Economists routinely cite the vaccination campaign as a linchpin for the economic recovery this year. A successful rollout of the vaccine is essential to restoring consumer confidence and relaxing restrictions on a whole host of everyday activities that are being limited to curb the spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus. Herd immunity would mean high-contact businesses like restaurants and bars, among the hardest hit, could resume a more normal state.

CEOs and other executives are counting on the vaccine, too, according to a fall survey by The Conference Board, a nonprofit business and research organization. The pandemic and the availability of a vaccine were ranked as the top two challenges beyond their control in 2021. 

Hesitancy to take the vaccine is one of the main risks to economic progress globally, and could hurt the chances of exiting the pandemic economy relatively quickly, the International Monetary Fund said last week in its World Economic Outlook. Depending on factors including how widespread vaccinations become, global growth in gross domestic product in 2021 could vary by 1.5 percentage points, the IMF said, which currently predicts 5.5% growth.  

Starting Feb. 11, select retail pharmacies across the country will begin offering the vaccine to those who are eligible through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, the White House announced in a statement Tuesday. Costco, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and several major grocery chains are among the pharmacies listed.

President Joe Biden, seeking a national vaccination program as part of his proposed $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” relief package, has pledged that 100 million doses of the vaccine will be administered in the first 100 days of his term.

Because of the limited supply, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended states limit their doses to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities first, with people older than 75 next and frontline workers like police officers next in line.