‘I don’t want to be the one who gives it to people’: Many Americans won’t eat out, fly until COVID-19 herd immunity arrives

By Paul Davidson | USA Today | March 24, 2021

A growing share of Americans would feel safe resuming activities like  dining out or flying within a few weeks of their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but 25% to 30% would wait until the nation reaches herd immunity, according to a Harris Poll survey for USA TODAY.

Their attitudes bode well for what’s expected to be a historically robust recovery from the coronavirus recession. But the sizeable share of people who prefer to wait until at least 70% of the population is immune could mean a less roaring launch to the rebound as some activity shifts to late summer and fall from midyear.

There’s no doubt that Americans who have largely been confined to their homes the past year can hardly wait to bust loose.

Thirty-three percent of those surveyed say they would feel safe eating indoors at a restaurant a few weeks after their second vaccine dose or earlier, according to the Harris Poll survey Friday through Sunday. By comparison, 29% of those polled in January said they would be comfortable dining out no later than a few weeks after the second dose.

In the latest survey, 7% said they would feel comfortable eating indoors at restaurants after the first dose; 7% immediately after the second dose; and 19% a few weeks after their second dose. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot.

Meanwhile, 28% would feel medically safe traveling by air a few weeks after their second dose or earlier, up from 25% in January. And 31% would feel comfortable attending a concert or sporting event in that timeframe, compared with 24% in January.

“The vaccine is certainly a game-changer for getting back to doing the things we love,” said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.

Traveling again after vaccine

Carol Tucker, 68, of Cranston, Rhode Island, has been hunkering down with her husband, son and daughter-in-law. For the past year, she hasn’t eaten at a restaurant, shopped for clothes or traveled, activities she did frequently before the pandemic. She orders all her groceries online.

But, she says, “I plan on doing everything” two weeks after she gets her second vaccine shot around mid-April. “Once I’m vaccinated, I’m not worried about it.”

She’s especially eager to resume plane trips to visit friends and relatives once every couple of months.

“I can’t stand not traveling,” she says.

Others plan to return to normal life gradually and to varying degrees.

David Polinchock, 61, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, says that two weeks after his second shot he and his wife will again dine out without being so particular about the circumstances, revive their near-weekly moviegoing ritual and hit the local flea markets. He also has scheduled a visit to his mother in Florida, whom he hasn’t seen in 18 months.

They also might go to an outdoor concert. But an indoor performance is off the table. He believes he’ll be immune from a severe COVID-19 case after vaccination but could get a mild bout and possibly transmit it.

“I don’t want to be the one who gives it to people,” he says.

Katie Reininger, 34, of Austin, Texas, has a similar view, with somewhat stricter parameters. Two weeks after she gets her second shot, “I would feel comfortable doing most things,” she says. But, she adds, “I wouldn’t go somewhere there’s a ton of people,” whether a concert or crowded restaurant.

Reininger, who is pregnant, worries she could contract a mild case and possibly give it to her two young children. Until the country reaches herd immunity, “I would still be careful about being around too many people,” she says.

Some Americans aren’t waiting to get vaccinated to resume their favorite activities.

About one-quarter of Harris survey respondents already feel safe dining indoors, and 10% would feel confident after close friends and family are vaccinated – figures that are unchanged from January. That means nearly 70% of Americans are already dining indoors or plan to do so no later than a few weeks after the second dose.

Waiting for herd immunity

Still, a notable share of Americans are awaiting herd immunity, which is when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a virus through vaccination or prior infection, making person-to-person spread unlikely. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expects the country to reach that milestone by late summer or early fall but added that Americans could return to at least some activities before then.

Some may be hesitant. Twenty-three percent of those Harris surveyed say they won’t feel safe eating indoors until the country gets to herd immunity; 27% won’t travel by air; and 32% won’t feel comfortable attending a concert or sporting event. Those figures, however, are down significantly from the January survey.

Still, many Americans’ inclination to continue lying low until herd immunity arrives could affect economic activity and forecasts.

Noting that about 10% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, Wolters Kluwer Blue Chip Economic Indicators says in its March report: “In this era, these data are the most important leading indicators of economic activity in the U.S. As vaccination rates increase, more economic activity can take place as it becomes less hazardous for people to gather inside.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, says that if the vast majority of Americans aren’t back to their normal activities by July 4, it could shift up to a percentage point of his annualized economic growth estimate from the second to the third quarter, though it wouldn’t affect his forecast for the year. He projects 6.2% growth in the second quarter, 6.7% in the third quarter and 5.7% for all of 2021.

Darris Johnson, 42, who lives in the Houston area, says he won’t go back to dining out freely, traveling and taking part in charity bicycle rides until the nation has herd immunity.

“I would not feel comfortable until most of the nation’s vaccinated, jab or no jab for myself,” he says.

Read the full story at USA Today.