COVID-19 herd immunity may not be reached in 2021.
Written by Sarah Lawsure, RN, VP of Clinical and Vocational Services
As the US COVID-19 infection rates increase to more than 1.5M and the US death rate exceeds 400,000, slowing the spread and stopping the disease in its tracks is a critical priority. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and avoiding crowds alone will not get us to herd immunity, or the point at which there is cumulative immunity in order to slow the reproduction rate of the virus. We need to rely on and reach for the most valuable tool available — the vaccine.
How many will opt to take the vaccine? We will need 70% to 75% of the population to receive it in order to reach herd immunity; will we reach those numbers in 2021? My opinion is that we are heading in the right direction, but it will be at least late 2021 before herd immunity is possible and we reach some degree of “normalcy.”
While confidence and the public intent to receive a vaccine is over 50%, those willing to get immunized currently will not reach the levels required to see the collective health benefits and the heard immunity necessary for us to return to normal anytime soon. Personal concerns, trust in vaccine development, and cultural practices are all barriers that must be overcome. Training and a greater understanding of the long-term societal benefits of the vaccine are a must in the coming months.
To date, two vaccines have been authorized and fully administered to 1.6 million people. Three other vaccines are in phase three clinical trials. We have a long way to go in order to reach the point at which enough of our population is vaccinated and immune to COVID-19 in order to prevent widespread, ongoing transmission. The 2020 public health interventions employed will no longer be needed when “normalcy” is reached. While regular revaccinations may be needed down the road — similar to annual flu shots — once we have reached herd immunity the threat of widespread transmission will be eliminated.
The COVID-19 vaccine has long been the ultimate tool for a return to a pre-pandemic life, allowing families to get together, people to return to the activities they love, businesses to regain their customers, and healthcare facilities to no longer be at their breaking points. Between now and the point at which the majority are vaccinated, it is important that we keep doing the things we’ve already learned to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Collectively, and with continued diligence and a commitment to the vaccine, we will reach herd immunity.