Penn Wharton Budget Model Projects Vaccine Hesitancy and Relaxed Social Distancing Could Lead to 4.6 Million Additional COVID-19 Cases in 2021

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If instead all eligible adults are vaccinated, PWBM projects up to 8.3 million fewer cases, 2.6 million new jobs and a 2% GDP increase in 2021

PHILADELPHIA, March 23, 2021––The outlook for the pandemic and the U.S. economy hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations this year. The Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania today released a report on the health and economic effects of reducing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, following up on a recent analysis of vaccination’s projected economic and epidemiological impact. PWBM analyzes how two types of behaviors—hesitancy to get vaccinated and social distancing—will affect the pandemic and the economy in 2021.

PWBM estimates that:

  • By the end of 2021, social contact rates (the frequency of close physical proximity to other persons outside the home) will return to 70 percent of pre-COVID levels and 25 percent of eligible U.S. residents will choose to remain unvaccinated.
  • If instead all eligible residents are vaccinated, PWBM projects a cumulative 5.3 million to 8.3 million fewer cases in 2021, 2.6 million new jobs by December 2021, and a 2 percentage point increase in Q4 2020 to Q4 2021 GDP growth.
  • If vaccine hesitancy persists and people optimistically increase social contact rates beyond 70 percent, a “perfect storm” emerges. If social contact rates rise to 85 percent of pre-COVID levels, PWBM projects up to 4.6 million additional coronavirus cases in 2021.

For more information, read the full report: Health and Economic Effects of Reducing COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy.

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About the Penn Wharton Budget Model

PWBM is a nonpartisan, independent applied research organization housed at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. PWBM works directly with policymakers and staff, serving as an honest broker by providing accurate, accessible, and transparent economic analysis of the fiscal and economic impact of public policy without advocacy. PWBM’s estimates are regularly referenced by policymakers and top news outlets. For more information, visit

About the Wharton School

Founded in 1881 as the world’s first collegiate business school, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the future of business by incubating ideas, driving insights, and creating leaders who change the world. With a faculty of more than 235 renowned professors, Wharton has 5,000 undergraduateMBAexecutive MBA and doctoral students. Each year 13,000 professionals from around the world advance their careers through Wharton Executive Education’s individual, company-customized, and online programs. More than 99,000 Wharton alumni form a powerful global network of leaders who transform business every day. For more information, visit