Breakingviews - Biden’s vaccine pledge looks too modest

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his first prime time address as president, marking the one-year anniversary of widespread shutdowns to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and speaking about the impact of the pandemic during an address from the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - President Joe Biden wants all Americans to be eligible for a shot by May 1 and for the country to be on a path closer to normal by the July Fourth holiday. He may be too modest. Vaccine production rates and real-time data show things are moving more quickly.

Over 19% of Americans, and over 62% of those over 65, have already received at least one dose of a vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The effect of that, combined with falling numbers of Covid-19 cases, is already percolating through the economy, reviving activity in areas hard hit by fearful consumers.

Take air travel. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration tracks passengers going through airport security. Last April, volume was less than 5% that of the same date in 2019. On Wednesday, it had recovered to about 45%. This is 10 percentage points higher than it was a month ago.

Crowded restaurants tell a similar story. OpenTable’s data shows that seated diners on Tuesday were down 46% in the U.S. compared to the same date in 2019. A month ago, the figure was down 59%. And TomTom traffic reports show rising congestion in the past few weeks in American cities ranging from New York to Los Angeles.

Now consider that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson estimate they will deliver enough additional shots between them, according to Breakingviews calculations, to vaccinate 100% of the U.S. population before the end of June. Biden may be setting goals that aren’t too hard to beat – a departure from his predecessor, who predicted the country could be back to normal by last April.

While bond investors have caught on to the revving economy, as 10-year Treasury yields at a 52-week high imply growing inflationary pressures, some Wall Street analysts may also be behind the curve. Despite the pent-up demand for flights and vacations, analysts think revenue at Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways won’t recover to 2019 levels until the latter half of 2022, according to Refinitiv, and 2023 for cruise company Carnival, and hotelier Hilton Worldwide. They may be in for a happy surprise.


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