“There’s nothing more important to the economy now than people getting vaccinated,” Powell said during a press conference capping off a two-day FOMC meeting. “If you think about the places where the economy is weak – I mentioned bars and restaurants … that’s all because of the spread of the pandemic.”
Powell said that given the current pace of vaccinations – at about 1 million per day – it will take “quite a while” to reach the level experts have identified as the threshold for herd immunity.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” he said.
Powell noted that weakness in the economy is concentrated in sectors that have taken the largest hit from the pandemic because of consumers’ hesitancy to re-engage over safety and health concerns.
“We’re just not going to be able to get that last group of people back to work – and it’s a big group of people – until we get the pandemic behind us,” Powell explained.
Powell has received his first dose of the vaccine, he said on Wednesday, and expects to receive his second “sometime soon.”
The Fed chair said he had not yet spoken with President Biden or with newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, though he expects to take up regular meetings with Yellen imminently.
The FOMC announced on Wednesday that it would hold the federal funds rate near 0% as it plans to continue using all of the tools at its disposal to support the U.S. economic recovery. It will also continue to purchase roughly $120 billion worth of bonds monthly.