Gloved hand holding vaccine

Will the Vaccine Save the US Small Business Economy?

7 min read • Dec 28, 2020 • Joe Kukura

The coronavirus vaccine has finally arrived. In fact, 2 coronavirus vaccines just received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for emergency use. USA Today reports that the Moderna vaccine is considered 94% effective, while the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has a 95% effectiveness rate. The approval of these “Operation Warp Speed” vaccines is certainly the most important milestone yet in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic experts have said throughout this crisis that the introduction of a vaccine would be the most critical necessary step for a global economic recovery. But now that the vaccines are here, we are confronted with the fact that we can’t just reopen the US small business economy overnight. 

In fact, a likely post-Christmas surge in COVID-19 cases just like we saw after Thanksgiving, combined with the new COVID-19 strain in England, could mean months more of lockdown and stay-at-home orders.

But the arrival of a vaccine is a “light at the end of the tunnel” moment, as its rollout does mean that people will, eventually, resume regular activities, return to the workplace, and bounce back from COVID-19. Consumer behavior may shift from what we used to call normal now that people have lived a full year of their lives very differently, but we finally have the most powerful tools ever to fight the virus. 

These vaccines will not be a magic wand that creates an instant economic recovery. The country faces enormous logistical challenges in distributing the vaccine, determining who gets it first, and perhaps most importantly, convincing skeptical people to get vaccinated.

How Many Americans Will Refuse to Take the Vaccine?

Just as many Americans have been hesitant about wearing a mask to prevent COVID-19 transmission, some people are also skeptical about taking a vaccine. But the good news is that number is dwindling. NPR reports that 71% of Americans say they will take the vaccine, in a poll conducted in late November and early December. That’s up from 63% in a poll conducted in late August and early September, so Americans are certainly warming up to the idea.      

That 71% figure represents a very important threshold, according to a recent New York Times analysis. “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told me that until 75% of people are vaccinated, we should all continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing, even if we’ve been vaccinated,” the Times author says. “In other words, unless three-quarters of the nation is vaccinated, the engine of the economy will not jump start the way so many are hoping.”

A large-scale movement to refuse the vaccine would likely extend the rash of small business closures and continue to delay an economic rebound. While sentiment seems to be moving in a positive direction in favor of COVID-19 vaccination, media reports of adverse effects could drive that sentiment the other way. And public perception might be one of the easier hurdles to clear. 

Who Will Get the Vaccine First?

It’s easy to forget, now that free COVID-19 tests are commonly available, but our coronavirus testing capability was very scarce in the early months of the pandemic. We may encounter similar problems administering the vaccine. States might again be forced to compete for limited resources, or logistical transportation issues could leave necessary supplies abandoned in warehouses. 

That said, public health officials are beginning to determine who will be first in line to get the long-sought vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released their initial guidance on who gets the vaccine first, declaring that “Healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be offered the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines.” 

That’s an answer, but a limited one that only mentions 2 very specific populations. Who gets the vaccine after healthcare workers and elder care residents? The CDC is still figuring that out.

According to the New York Times, a CDC working group is currently recommending that “frontline essential workers” get the vaccine next. This is not yet a finalized decision, but they are considering these professions for next-step priority vaccination status: 

  • Teachers and school staff 
  • Police and firefighters 
  • Daycare employees 
  • Correctional facility staff
  • Public transit operators
  • Grocery store employees
  • Postal service workers
  • Food production and manufacturing facility workers

And even that is not the official list, as these decisions will actually be left up to the states. “What we are providing governors and health officials with is a framework which is supported by evidence,” vaccine group chairperson Dr. Jose R. Romero told the Times.

Even with such a plan in place, it’s going to be difficult to get the vaccine to rural communities and small hospitals. Countless things could go wrong, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine that depends upon specialized refrigerated trucking businesses.

Will Workplaces Make the Vaccine Mandatory?

The vaccine has only been around for a few weeks, but we already have a definitive answer to this question. Yes, a workplace can absolutely require mandatory vaccinations. 

Plenty of states already require their schoolteachers to get certain vaccinations, just as they do their students, and that’s been the case for years. Other industries like hospitals also require mandatory vaccinations in some states, and this is well-established law. The New York State Bar has even called for mandatory vaccinations in that state, but President-elect Joe Biden has said he would not consider a national vaccine mandate.

When the vaccine becomes readily available to the general public, small business owners may have to wrestle with the question of whether to require employees to get vaccinated. But that decision is likely still a long way off, as the first emergency batch of vaccinations is still being delivered. 

The incoming Joe Biden administration faces an immediate and historic challenge to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly and widely as possible. Any missteps could undermine the new-president economic bounce that most incoming presidents usually get. Biden has a set of vaccine decisions that are hard to make but a whole lot harder to carry out.


Joe Kukura

Joe Kukura is a San Francisco freelance writer whose work also appears in SF Weekly and SFist. He’s written financial advice for NerdWallet, tech industry analysis for the Daily Dot, sports content for NBC Bay Area, and good, old-fashioned clickbait for Thrillist.