Things are looking up for the economy — if enough people can get vaccinated

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'The trajectory of the economy is predicated on the effectiveness of the vaccine and its distribution,' Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the National Retail Federation, said this week.

In a Thursday letter, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told colleagues in the Group of 20 countries that she believes the key to economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic is widespread vaccination — a position echoed by other experts in recent days.

"A rapid and truly global vaccination program is the strongest stimulus we can provide to the global economy," she wrote in the letter, which encourages G-20 countries to cooperate with one another in supporting such vaccination efforts.

The letter also advocates for G-20 countries "to continue to take significant fiscal and financial-policy actions and avoid withdrawing support [from vaccination programs] too early.”

While things are looking up for the U.S. economy — a Commerce Department report released Thursday noted that the economy slightly outpaced (4.1% to 4%) projected economic growth in the fourth quarter, and applications for unemployment benefits have hit a three-month low — Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said this month that the United States remains "a long way from a full recovery."

And experts agree it's widespread vaccination efforts that are the swiftest route to full economic recovery.

Mortgage loan company Fannie Mae's chief economist and senior vice president, Doug Duncan, told the National Mortgage Professional, "If 2020 was the year of the virus, then 2021 will more than likely be the year of the vaccine. Whether the vaccines are effective, including with the new virus strains, and how broadly and timely they can be distributed remain key questions; our forecast assumes such efficacy and that they'll be widely administered by summer."

And, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation, retail sales are set to hit their highest rate in decades in 2021, with their projection ranging from 6.5% to 8.2% growth — but the projection largely depends on the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz noted, "The trajectory of the economy is predicated on the effectiveness of the vaccine and its distribution."

"Our principal assumption is that the vaccination will be effective and permits accelerated growth during the mid-year," he added. "The economy is expected to see its fastest growth in over two decades."

But the U.S. rollout of the COVID vaccine has encountered some obstacles along the way.

For instance, many states have experienced vaccine shortages. Critics have pinned these in part to the Trump administration ordering too few vaccines and failing to lend adequate federal support for state rollout.

And in many jurisdictions, subpar record-keeping and inadequate storage facilities have led to wasting thousands of doses of the vaccine. States across the country have seen delivery delays in the past two weeks due to extreme winter storms. Many states are also struggling to find vaccine providers with sufficient training to administer the shots.

Yet even in the face of these difficulties and severe winter weather delays, vaccine providers in the United States still delivered 1.3 million vaccine doses last week — surpassing President Joe Biden's initial goal of 1 million a day.

As of this week, 45.2 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine to date, which includes about 20 million who have received both doses. This is still below the 50% to 90% of 328 million Americans that need to receive the vaccine in order to achieve herd immunity, but President Joe Biden's administration is steadily increasing vaccine distribution and guiding rollout.

And experts say the Biden administration is well on its way to achieving the vaccination goals that will aid economic recovery.

John Swartzberg, an international authority on vaccines and infectious diseases, told California Magazine on Wednesday that while the initial vaccine rollout was "fumbled" and "botched" by the Trump administration, he thinks hope is on the horizon. 

"I think we finally have an administration that takes this problem seriously," he said. "Their approach is science-based, and they’ve unleashed the CDC and FDA from horrible politicization."

He added that "there are many signs that things are appreciably better than they were three or four weeks ago."

"I think the public will start to see real fruits from these efforts by the end of the month," Swartzberg told the outlet, "and March will be better than February. Not everything will be worked out by March, but I anticipate things will be running very smoothly by April."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.