Is attaining herd immunity unlikely?

Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 7:45 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - A slowdown in vaccinations, vaccine hesitancy, and variants of COVID-19 all have health experts less hopeful that herd immunity is possible.

So, what will this mean for us getting out of this pandemic and back to a sense of normalcy?

All throughout the pandemic, we’ve been hearing that herd immunity could be the key to ending it.

Health experts say herd immunity is not something you turn on or off and could take some time to attain.

But even if we never get to it, we can still lead normal lives.

Medical Director of Disease Control for Jefferson County, Dr. Wesley Willeford, says it is important people understand what herd immunity means - that we have enough people vaccinated or immune to a virus that it becomes nearly impossible to spread.

“That’s one complicating factor, so when we’re looking at targets of…you know…70, 80, 90% of people vaccinated, that’s a tall order,” Dr. Willeford said.

But with COVID vaccinations slowing and variants of the virus still circulating, attaining herd immunity may not be the endgame many were hoping for.

“Herd immunity…I think people too much want to think about it like a light switch and really it’s more of a slide bar…the more people that you have that are vaccinated or immune to a virus, that means the fewer people who are going to get it and the more difficult it is going to be for that virus to spread,” Dr. Willeford explained.

Dr. Willeford says even if we don’t attain herd immunity, the existence of COVID-19 does not necessarily mean we’ll never get back to normal.

But he says getting more people to roll up their sleeves is key.

“We have to rely on people talking to one another, people who’ve been vaccinated talking to their family members who haven’t been vaccinated, talking to their friends who haven’t been vaccinated, talking about their experience with it. I think that’s what’s going to help,” Dr. Willeford said.

Dr. Willeford says he hopes eventually we’ll have medications that will help us manage COVID-19, much like we manage the flu.

But the vaccines are all we have for now.

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