Herd Immunity Probably Not Happening Now, Thanks Anti-Vaxxers And Conspiracy Theorists!
After nearly a year of hopes and dreams of "OK, we'll get through this and then we'll get a vaccine and then herd immunity will happen and things will be okay again," it now turns out that, according to public health experts, the United States is probably not going to achieve herd immunity any time soon, perhaps even ever.
Why? Well, there are a few reasons. As fast as we got the vaccine out, it wasn't quite fast enough. Variants had the chance to develop that were more contagious and more severe than the original virus. And while 50 percent of US adults have had at least the first dose of the vaccine, only 70 percent say they definitely plan on going all the way, and that's just not enough. Additionally, the United States and other rich countries worked out their own individual deals with pharmaceutical companies instead of working out a collective deal with the World Health Organization's COVAX program. This means a lot of poorer countries, particularly in the global south, will not have enough vaccines, which could result in even deadlier and more contagious forms of the virus developing.
It's almost as if greed is not, in fact, good, and believing nonsense is not harmless.
This, of course, does not mean that we can slack on vaccines, because the more people get vaccinated, the less dangerous this will all be.
Via the New York Times:
Continued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency, experts believe.
"The virus is unlikely to go away," said Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "But we want to do all we can to check that it's likely to become a mild infection."
The shift in outlook presents a new challenge for public health authorities. The drive for herd immunity — by the summer, some experts once thought possible — captured the imagination of large segments of the public. To say the goal will not be attained adds another "why bother" to the list of reasons that vaccine skeptics use to avoid being inoculated.
Yet vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat, experts said.
The problem is, even with the vaccine, breakthrough cases happen — i.e. there are people who still end up getting COVID even two weeks after being vaccinated. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, which is why it's important for as many people to get vaccinated as possible, so that even those few for whom the vaccine is not effective are protected.
While we had once hoped to eradicate the virus, that is now quite unlikely. The hope now is that, with vaccinations, it may become less deadly over time.
By focusing on vaccinating the most vulnerable, the United States has already brought those numbers down sharply. If the vaccination levels of that group continue to rise, the expectation is that over time the coronavirus may become seasonal, like the flu, and affect mostly the young and healthy.
"What we want to do at the very least is get to a point where we have just really sporadic little flare-ups," said Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "That would be a very sensible target in this country where we have an excellent vaccine and the ability to deliver it."
Over the long term — a generation or two — the goal is to transition the new coronavirus to become more like its cousins that cause common colds. That would mean the first infection is early in childhood, and subsequent infections are mild because of partial protection, even if immunity wanes.
There's a certain amount of irony here that would be somewhat satisfying if it were not so deadly. Anti-vaxxers, whether they said so or not, were essentially relying on the rest of us to be responsible and get the vaccine so that they could benefit from herd immunity. But they spread their nonsense so successfully that now there are not enough people getting the vaccine to protect them. Whoops!
Not unlike a virus, the more nonsense spreads, the more variants pop up and the more difficult it is to inoculate against. Instead of just one reason to not get immunized that could be easily disproven, these people now have 70 reasons for not getting a jab. Some of which are as ridiculous as people not understanding the difference between sterilized immunity and sterilization as it refers to fertility.
It kind of sucks that these people have to ruin things for the rest of us and they won't all just go away somewhere to run free and live out their days without hurting anyone with their bullshit, but that's not an option. Neither is refusing hospital treatment to any unvaccinated person who gets COVID-19. So the rest of us just need to keep getting vaccinated in hopes of ameliorating the worst of it.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse