Herd immunity: The US may never reach it, but it may not need to

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Some experts are wondering if the US will ever reach herd immunity, but everyone is trying to figure out how to normalize life anyway.

What’s below is taken from various reports by CNN’s Health team.

And the country has averaged more than 49,400 new Covid-19 cases daily in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins. On January 8, the country averaged more than 251,000 cases every day — the highest seven-day average of the pandemic.

What would herd immunity be? CNN’s Jen Christensen writes: “As with any disease, how many people need to be immune to provide community protection depends on how infectious it is. For Covid-19, experts think the magic number could be anywhere between 70 to 90% of a population immune to the virus. The world is nowhere near that level.”

Step one: vaccinations. Vaccinations have been the key to bringing US case counts down, according to experts and there are coming changes in how vaccinations will be allocated and who will be eligible.

For seniors. Most older Americans have been vaccinated — 83% of Americans over 65 have had one dose and 70% are fully vaccinated.

For adults. The White House announced Tuesday a new, more ambitious goal to get 70% of US adults at least one vaccination shot by July 4 and 160 million people — half the country — fully vaccinated by then.

Current status. 56% of the adult population has one shot and 40% — about 105 million people — are fully vaccinated. But the rate of vaccination is slowing.

The federal government will divert more vaccine to local pharmacies, pop up clinics, mobile clinics and push immediate walk-in appointments.

I went to an indoor mall for the first time in a year and found an empty storefront taken over by a vaccination site. They were grabbing people near the food court.

The Biden administration will also push new vaccine allocations to rural health clinics, spend on outreach for rural Americans. It will change its allocation process in another way, shifting more supply to states with higher demand.

For teens. The FDA will likely issue emergency approval for the the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in kids 12-15 next week. That starts a process to amend the emergency use authorization for these kids.

For kids. Pfizer said it plans to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization to use its vaccine in kids 2-11 in September.

An ongoing study on pregnant women could wrap in July or August, according to CNN’s report.

Young people affected by new variants. In Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said younger people were showing up in her state’s hospitals. She issued new Covid restrictions and told young people it’s their responsibility to get vaccinated.

Free beer. Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy even announced the state also plans to offer a free beer to anyone over the age of 21 who shows their completed vaccination card at thirteen participating breweries throughout the state. The campaign is called “A shot and a beer.” Get it?

Free money. Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wants to offer people 16-35 a $100 savings bond and said state officials will be targeting young people on social media.

“If we have to go door-to-door, we’ll go door-to-door,” Justice said in a statement.

The herd immunity approach won’t work long-term. We don’t know how long immunity from either exposure or vaccination will last. It could require periodic boosters or an annual vaccine like the flu. Here’s a video on what we don’t know about Covid reinfection from CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

Note: A booster would not require full reauthorization, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Monday.

There will be a re-surge. Here’s Wen on the danger of too few people getting vaccinated now, when cases are down, particularly since the virus is mutating and changing in places where it is running rampant.

“What I really worry about is that those people who are already on the fence don’t get vaccinated (and) we don’t reach herd immunity come the fall,” she said over the weekend.

“And then with the winter … we have a big resurgence, maybe we have variants coming in from other countries, and we could start this whole process all over again and have another huge pandemic come the winter.”

Herd immunity is hard to do. Lauren Ancel Meyers runs the Covid-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas and she ticked off for CNN the reasons the US and the world may never get there.

  • Vaccinating so many people would be nearly impossible;
  • this particular virus spreads too rapidly;
  • more contagious variants threaten to make vaccines less effective;
  • there are entire countries and pockets of the US that have few fully vaccinated people;
  • there are vaccine access and equity issues;
  • children are not yet vaccinated;
  • and about a quarter of the population is hesitant or unwilling to get vaccinated.
The US may never reach herd immunity. But! Most people will still be able to get back to their pre-pandemic lives if case numbers continue to fall, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Health, told CNN on Monday.

“We may not get to zero, we probably won’t,” Jha said. “But if we can get the infections at very low levels, most of us can get back to our lives in normal ways. I think we can probably live with that.”

Israel has achieved extremely low case rates with a 50% vaccination rate. The more vaccinations, the closer the experts say we’ll be to normal, even if it’s not technically controlled.

Just be free. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an order Monday to make it impossible for local governments in the state — where about 27.5% of the population has been vaccinated — to implement their own restrictions, arguing the falling case counts and deaths mean restrictions are no longer necessary. His move drew criticism from officials in Miami and Orange County.



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