This holiday season, many Americans are facing the double-whammy of an economic and health crisis, as the death toll from coronavirus is expected to rise — potentially by roughly 100,000 more deaths by the end of the year, according to some models — and many COVID-era financial protections — such as student loan deferrals and the eviction moratorium — are expected to expire at the end of the year.
Many are hoping the coronavirus vaccines in development from Pfizer and Moderna will be able to reduce the need for lockdowns or other measures, yet they are not expected to be widely available until February or March, according to what Fauci told The Desert Sun.
This has left much of the hope for an economic recovery in the hands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the two main negotiators of a coronavirus relief package. Compromise on the price tag of such a package — which once had both sides only $300 billion away from one another — now appear further away than ever; Pelosi is still pushing for the passage of an updated $2.2 trillion HEROES Act, while McConnell is saying he finds that number “unserious” and has remained unwilling to budge above a $500 billion plan.
But which one of these relief measures — a stimulus package or vaccine — is likely to happen sooner? Here’s what we know.
Despite Expressed Optimism, Stimulus Talks Are on Shaky Ground
In President-elect Joe Biden’s November 16 speech, he mentioned twice that he believes the HEROES Act should be passed, saying, “I would pass the Heroes Act … Now, not tomorrow. Now.” Biden met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on November 20, and although details of their meeting remain fairly secret, all three emerged in agreement that a stimulus package must be passed, The New York Times reported.
Former presidential candidate and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has been involved in some of the negotiations, said she believes a deal will get done. “The good news I have is that the negotiations have started up again. I have been part of some of them, and I think we’re going to pass something in the next few weeks,” Klobuchar told local NBC affiliate KARE-11.
Based on timeline projections from CNET, if a deal could be reached by December 11, it is still possible that checks would come before 2021. However, if negotiations push into the spring, it is likely a vaccine could be here by then.
- The House passes a bill on December 11, which the Senate signs December 12 and Trump signs December 13, which means the first checks would go out the week of December 28.
- The House passes a bill on February 1, which the Senate signs February 2 and Biden signs February 3, which means the first checks would go out the week of February 8.
- The House passes a bill on March 1, which the Senate signs March 2 and Biden signs March 3, which means the first checks would go out the week of March 8.
- The House passes a bill on April 5, which the Senate signs April 6 and Biden signs on April 7, which means the first checks would go out the week of April 12.
But negotiations remain contentious.
As mentioned earlier, the price tag on the bills championed by either side remains one of several points of contention between the two sides on a stimulus package. You can read more about the bills being negotiated here. Talks between the two sides have remained on the same roller-coaster trajectory between optimism, snark and recriminations since April.
During her weekly press conference, Pelosi expressed optimism, while also slamming McConnell for his refusal to pass the HEROES Act. “I’m optimistic that we will have bipartisanship to put something together to go forward because I do believe that many of our colleagues understand what’s happening in their districts and to want to make a difference,” she said. “There’s just one big obstacle in the way, in the Senate, it’s Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly referred to the HEROES Act as an unrealistic “wish list,” and tweeted that he thought the bill was unserious.
Instead, McConnell has advocated for a more “targeted” approach and a ” skinny” bill that would cost $500 billion. Much of the conversation has been framed around McConnell’s opposition to the HEROES Act, which has support among many Republicans in the Senate. Senator Richard Shelby, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “I think right now that the Democrats would have to come a long way back to reality with us to get a bill,” according to Business Insider.
The General Public Will Likely Receive the Vaccine in Spring
A projection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the country would have a total of 276,000-298,000 deaths from COVID-19 by the week of December 12, 2020. A model from the IHME shows that, based on the current trajectory of the country, the coronavirus death toll is projected to be 470,974 by March of 2021. If a national mask mandate is implemented, that number drops to 405,984 deaths, and if all restrictions are eased, that number jumps to 658,414 deaths.
According to The New York Times, Moderna and Pfizer — the two companies developing the front-running vaccines — are planning to apply for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration soon. The move would allow them to give the public doses of the vaccine.
Even if that authorization comes before the end of the year, however, the companies must figure out distribution methods that will preserve the vaccine. The New York Times reported that Moderna’s vaccine must be stored minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit to remain viable and Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus 94 Fahrenheit to remain viable.
Moreover, only certain segments of the population will receive the vaccine first, according to The Desert Sun: “Fauci said frontline health care workers are expected to receive their first of two vaccine doses by the end of December or early January. Then, high-risk elderly people, assuming the vaccine works well in them, are likely to be the next to receive the vaccine.”
Fauci went on to say that the general population will likely receive the first doses of the vaccine between April and July, The Desert Sun reported, after which, some of the pandemic-era safety measures may be eased. “Then you can start talking about this umbrella or blanket of protection on society that would diminish dramatically the risk of a person being exposed or even being infected. When so many people are protected, that’s when you get into the real herd immunity,” he said, according to The Desert Sun.
Given the desire and necessity for a vaccine, it is much more of a sure thing than the next stimulus package, which has been discussed for seven months.