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Herd immunity threshold may be out of reach in U.S. Boston 25 News

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BOSTON – It’s a void that experts can’t precisely fill, although they’ve been trying for months: Normalcy will return when __% of the population is immune to COVID-19.

When the virus first appeared, it took 60 to 70 percent to get to where the virus couldn’t spread, said Dr Robin Colgrove, virologist at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. Difficult but achievable.

But then it got more difficult.

With more resistant variants spreading and a fairly large group of tough Americans who just won’t get vaccinated, it looks like the number it would take to get vaccinated, the fraction, is more in the 75-85% range. range, said Dr Colgrove. And that really doesn’t seem to be achievable across the country.

Yet, individually, vaccination is important, according to Colgrove.

Getting the vaccine makes death from COVID-19 extremely unlikely, the doctor said.

>>> MORE: Governor Baker says state plans to close 4 mass vaccination sites by end of June

Many refer to the point of majority immunity as collective immunity. But that’s a misnomer, said Dr Matthew Ferrari, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State University.

Collective immunity, this concept is a journey. It’s not a destination, Ferrari said. And what he describes is the gradual and further reduction in the risk for everyone of being in a population where many people are immune. So this is a journey we started the first time someone became immune to COVID.

Ferrari said the thing currently under discussion, as vaccination programs continue, is the herd immunity threshold.

This is a point where there is enough immunity built up in the population that an epidemic is unlikely to start, he said. So we were really talking about apples and oranges here.

And Ferrari has suggested talking about the numbers and percentages of vaccinated as a way to gauge victory over the virus might be unnecessary.

If you set a goal, everyone focuses on that goal, he said. And if that goal is far away, it can be really motivating. We have a long way to go. Let it all go. But as you get closer and closer to that goal, people start to take their foot off the accelerator.

And there is always the possibility that this number is wrong.

We could do it right in general, Ferrari said. And that’s in the order of 65-85% of the immune population that we might need. But it’s a pretty big window. And so, not everyone in the population will respond to this window in the same way. Some people will cut back on gas as they turn 65, others are more risk averse and will stay committed until age 85.

>>> MORE: BU is organizing a vaccination clinic for students this week

One reason to stay engaged until 85: the COVID image constant.

The virus doesn’t just go away, Colgrove said. It’s probably going to be with us for a while. It will also infiltrate communities that have low vaccination rates and low levels of immunity.

And it won’t be beneficial to any of us.

The more the virus continues to spread, it continues to have a chance of developing newer, more contagious and more vaccine-resistant variants, Colgrove said.

And this is the time when there may not be a new normal. Because it will have become normal.

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