Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, experts have said how crucial it is to achieve a certain level of collective immunity. But now some are saying that full herd immunity may not be necessary to make life look more normal.
Collective immunity, or as some experts now call it, “population” or “community” immunity, is when most of the population is immune to a particular disease, whether through natural infection or through vaccination. When a population reaches this stage, the virus has nowhere to go and the disease goes away. Then even people who do not have individual immunity are protected.
As with any disease, the number of people who need to be immunized to protect the community depends on how infected it is. For Covid-19, experts believe the magic number could be between 70 and 90% of a population immune to the virus. The world is far from this level.
“Given where we are today, as we look around the United States and when we look around the globe, it looks like that won’t happen for the foreseeable future,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, Managing Director of Covid-19. Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin.
It’s a good goal, Meyers said, but she checks off a host of factors in this particular pandemic that suggest the odds are not in her favor:
- Vaccinating so many people would be almost impossible.
- This particular virus spreads too quickly.
- More contagious variants threaten to make vaccines less effective.
- There are whole countries and pockets of the United States that have few fully vaccinated people.
- There are issues of access to vaccines and equity.
- Children are not yet vaccinated.
- About a quarter of the population hesitate or refuse to be vaccinated.
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