Herd immunity? Unlikely in the U.S., experts believe

Coronavirus Updates

(ABC4) – Since vaccinations against COVID-19 began, experts have hoped for herd immunity, where enough Americans would be protected against the virus that the pathogen would be gone and we could return to ‘normal.’

Now, some experts believe herd immunity will never be reached in the U.S., according to a New York Times report.

More than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Despite this, daily vaccination rates are slipping, according to the Times, leading scientists and public health experts to fear that herd immunity may not be reached, at least not in the near future.

Instead, experts tell the Times they believe COVID-19 will become “a manageable threat” that will cause deaths and hospitalizations, but in smaller numbers, than we’ve experienced over the last year.

“The virus is unlikely to go away,” Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, tells the Times. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”

Vaccines remain crucial in the fight against COVID-19, experts emphasize. The U.S. recently surpassed a vaccination milestone, reporting a total of more than 100 million Americans becoming fully vaccinated. Still, many areas across the country are seeing a decline in those eligible getting the vaccine, including Utah.

In fact, enough people aren’t showing up to some vaccination clinics in Utah, causing those clinics to close down.

Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and a visiting professor of health policy at George Washington University, tells the Associated Press that fully vaccinating about 40% of American adults is a great achievement, but not enough.

“The hardest part is ahead of us,” she says. “I’m very concerned that we are not going to come anywhere close to reaching herd immunity in 2021.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, estimates 70% to 85% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

Experts tell the Times that, if we can’t reach the herd immunity threshold, the focus will be on the rate of hospitalization and deaths after COVID-19 restrictions relax. Part of this was ensuring the most at-risk Americans received a COVID-19 vaccine, which a majority have thanks to strict eligibility guidelines as vaccinations began.

By vaccinating the most vulnerable, experts say the coronavirus could become seasonal, like the flu.

Still, experts say it is important to get vaccinated, if you haven’t already. A recent real-world study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of adults 65 and older that were fully vaccinated, 94% were less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

For more on what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.

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