U.S. vaccine hesitancy could mean 4.6 million more COVID-19 cases

By Katia Dmitrieva

Bloomberg News

The U.S. could experience a “perfect storm” for a jump in COVID-19 cases this year if Americans remain unvaccinated while increasing social activity, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

An estimated one-quarter of Americans will opt out of coronavirus vaccinations this year, the nonpartisan research organization said in a report. If activities involving personal contact surpass 70% of pre-pandemic levels, an additional 4.6 million people could catch the virus this year.

“If all eligible U.S. residents are vaccinated in 2021, we project that the pandemic will effectively be over by the fall,” researchers Alex Arnon and John Ricco wrote in the report. “Differences in the vaccine take-up rate lead to large differences in the state of the economy at the end of 2021.”

Universal vaccination would mean 8.3 million fewer virus cases this year and would trigger an economic boom, according to the projections, with fourth-quarter GDP growth 2 percentage points faster and an extra 2.6 million jobs created by December.

Getting people on board will be a tough challenge as about 30% of survey respondents say they won’t be getting a vaccine, even as President Joe Biden aims to have all Americans eligible by May 1. It presents a challenge for Biden, whose economic goals rest on distribution of the vaccines and reopening of business.

Partisan differences are increasingly seen in vaccine intent. A Pew Research Center survey, conducted Feb. 16-21, found that Democrats are 27 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say they plan to get, or have already received, a coronavirus vaccine.

Meanwhile, companies are desperate to get back to normal levels of activity. Three-quarters of small businesses say the pandemic has had a moderate or large negative effect on their activity, according to the latest results from the Census Bureau’s weekly survey.