If the United States continues its progress on vaccinating Americans against the coronavirus—a recent average of 3 million doses per day—then it will likely experience strong economic growth in 2021. (As much as 8 percent GDP growth according to one estimate.) But there are a number of factors that could threaten this recovery—new variants, anti-vaccine sentiment, low vaccine demand, lack of access to vaccines, disparate vaccination rates across different populations, the relaxing of mask and physical distancing guidelines and fatigue with these guidelines, and the inequitable distribution of vaccines among high-, middle- and low-income countries.
Today, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC)—led by Chairman Don Beyer (D-VA)—will hold a remote hearing titled “Vaccinations and the Economic Recovery,” exploring the relationship between the two and other public health interventions such as masking and physical distancing, as well as why, as one economist said recently, “vaccine policy is economic policy.” According to data from a Brookings Institution-Financial Times collaboration, countries with faster vaccination rates have stronger recoveries.
“The Biden-Harris administration has substantially increased the rate of vaccinations in its first 3 months in office. Still, there are other factors that may threaten our vaccination effort—and therefore threaten our economic recovery. Among them is the inequitable distribution of the vaccines both domestically and globally—not to mention the threat of new variants, anti-vaccine sentiment and lack of access to vaccines, among others.
“Domestically, vaccination rates for Blacks and Latinos lag far behind the rates for whites. These are the same communities that have borne the brunt of both the health and economic effects of the coronavirus. Globally, high-income countries have purchased enough vaccine to cover two, and sometimes even three times their populations, while low- and middle-income countries—which account for 81 percent of the world’s adult population—have collectively purchased only 33 percent of vaccines.
“To end this pandemic for good, the battle against the coronavirus must be won globally. So while we have made extraordinary progress in the past few months vaccinating Americans and those around the world, we are not out of the woods yet. Our most important goal now is to make sure the train stays on the track.”
(Chairman Beyer’s written opening statement can be found here. In March, the JEC sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration urging them to develop a plan for sharing surplus coronavirus vaccine doses equitably with low- and middle-income countries.)
Four witnesses will testify at today’s hearing—three Democratic witnesses and one Republican witness. Democratic witnesses include Dr. Céline Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine & Infectious Diseases at NYU and Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Belinda Archibong, Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University and Dr. Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize-winning Economist and University Professor at NYU. Both Dr. Gounder and Dr. Archibong will discuss how access issues are resulting in disparate vaccination rates across various populations in the United States. Dr. Romer will discuss the importance of the United States “adequately recovering” from the current economic downturn, which, he emphasizes, the country failed to do after the previous two recessions.Dr. Gounder:
“To get vaccinated in this country, you have to be eligible, know that you’re eligible, know there’s supply in your area, and know who’s providing the vaccines. You then need to schedule an appointment for vaccination. The people who’ve been most adept at navigating these complex systems have higher levels of education and income and are younger, whiter, and less rural. They have better access to broadband internet and computers. They may be more computer literate. They have more flexible jobs that might allow them to multitask, working while periodically refreshing that vaccine appointment website. They’re also less likely to have a disability, which can pose additional barriers to making and attending an appointment.”
(Dr. Gounder’s written testimony can be found here.)
“There are significant differences in vaccination rates by state, with rates of fully vaccinated
populations as low as 15% in Georgia and as high as 29% in New Mexico … Within these rates, there are racial disparities in access to vaccines and vaccination, with states with more Black and Hispanic populations receiving smaller shares of vaccines compared to their shares of cases and deaths and compared to their shares of the total population. For example, in California, 23% of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people while they make up 55% of cases, 57% of deaths and 40% of the total population in the state. Comparably, in DC, Black populations have received 37% of vaccinations while making up 49% of cases, 69% of deaths and 46% of the total population … These racial disparities in vaccination are a significant barrier to vaccination and economic recovery, especially given that Black and Hispanic workers constitute a major part of the essential workforce in many states.”
(Dr. Archibong’s written testimony can be found here.)
“In the United States we have a much more flexible labor market. This has advantages when times are good, but disadvantages during a downturn. During each downturn, employment fell by a much larger amount in the United States than in other comparable economies. This means that the United States must be sure to sustain a much more vigorous recovery of employment during the recovery that follows a downturn. In the last two decades, we have failed to sustain the required recovery. During our recoveries, our unemployment rate did fall to levels that looked like we had fully recovered, but this fall in the unemployment rate was realized to a substantial extent because many adults simply gave up on the possibility of having a job.
“To achieve the type of full recovery that the United States now needs, one that induces those who have given up hope to return to the labor market, the United States will need both the aggressive stimulus that the Congress has already passed and a follow-on commitment to investment in infrastructure that can get people back to work.”
(Dr. Romer’s written testimony can be found here.)