Utah (ABC4 News) — Is herd immunity a possibility for COVID-19?

According to a recent article from Intermountain Healthcare, herd immunity, also known as “population immunity,” refers to situations when enough members of a population – or herd – develop immunity to a virus or bacteria to prevent further outbreaks.

Not all infectious diseases can be controlled through herd immunity, however, for the ones that can, their success is determined by two factors:

  1. The percentage of the population that must develop immunity before the disease is controlled
  2. How long immunity lasts

For COVID-19 herd immunity to occur, Intermountain Healthcare says 70% of the population would have to be infected with the virus every nine months. That translates to an estimated 230 million cases, or about 850,000 cases a day.

To entertain what it would take to reach that level of an increased infection rate it would mean removing restrictions and letting the disease run its course. In doing so, the medical group says the following would potentially occur: 

  • More than five times more people would get sick than in a typical flu season
  • More than 1 billion work days lost
  • An estimated $109 billion in lost income
  • More than 42,000 patients would be hospitalized every day
  • More than 11 million hospital admissions

“In order to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19, 70 percent of the population would have be to infected every nine months! In other words, it’s impossible to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 through widespread transmission,” says Dr. Brandon Webb with Intermountain Healthcare.

Intermountain Healthcare officials say achieving herd immunity to COVID-19 through infection is not only impossible but would come at a terrible cost to healthcare systems, the economy, and our lives.

But they add that there is hope in awaiting a successful vaccine.

“The goal of vaccines is to stimulate long-lasting immunity without the collateral damage of natural infection,” as stated in the Intermountain Healthcare article. “It is unknown how long-lasting the immunity from the vaccine will be. If vaccine results prove to have a good safety profile, they will represent the only viable way of achieving herd immunity, even if it calls for yearly vaccination.”

Recent talk of a COVID-19 vaccine making its way to Utah by mid-December has left Utahns wondering what exactly vaccine distribution means?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah health officials say they have been committed to providing Utahns with up-to-date health information and recommendations to help people make informed decisions to protect their families, businesses, and Utah communities.

“When the vaccine is available, every Utahn age 18 years or older should get vaccinated for COVID-19. If as many people as possible get vaccinated, and we continue to follow health recommendations, we will win the fight against this virus,” as stated on Utah.gov.

Utah will receive a limited supply of the vaccine to begin with. Policymakers are developing plans to make sure those at the highest risk will get the vaccine first.

According to Utah Department of Health officials, a plan has been in the works to prioritize vaccination groups on the state and local levels. The plan is based on current information about COVID-19 vaccines, state and local data, the vaccine storage capability of facilities, and guidance from the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“Until a vaccine is widely available, we must suppress transmission by limiting contact with non-household members, and wearing masks and distancing when contact with others is unavoidable. These measures work and will limit unnecessary deaths and economic impact while we wait for an effective vaccine,” reads the Intermountain Healthcare article.

So can Utah reach herd immunity from COVID-19? Realistically, likely not, but according to Intermountain Healthcare, the vaccine may be our best hope.