‘With COVID, we may not’: Infectious disease specialist talks unlikelihood of reaching herd immunity


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As the number of people getting vaccinated starts to slow down, health experts are now saying it’s unclear if we can ever reach herd immunity in the coronavirus pandemic.

You might have seen health experts report in the past a certain percentage of the population needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to reach herd immunity.

Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, that percentage is unknown.

“We are still learning how many people have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before most people can be considered protected (population immunity),” the website states.

According to Dr. John Adams, an infectious disease specialist with Covenant Health, this is what ‘herd immunity’ means:

“If someone gets sick they probably can’t spread it to somebody else who is susceptible. And so you can have cases, but you won’t have an epidemic,” Adams said.

Adams said doctors are constantly learning more about the virus, and about the effectiveness of the vaccine, which is why some of their statements seem to change often.

He said it’s always been like that, but thanks to social media and technology, information spreads faster.

In the grand scheme of the pandemic, Adams said they have come a long way.

“We’ve gone from knowing virtually nothing, to learning an enormous amount and still finding there’s a lot to be learned. The book hasn’t been written yet. We’re still learning,” Adams said.

In the sense of herd immunity, Adams said what that might look like has also changed.

“A year ago, a little less than a year ago, there was a lot of hope that when we get a vaccine, we vaccinate people, we can get enough immunization out there that we can reach that goal,” Adams said.

He said now, that’s not the case.

Adams said there are several reasons why, and it’s not all because the entire population isn’t vaccinated yet.

Although, he said, that does play a large factor.

Adams said even if the majority of people in the U.S. were fully vaccinated, the world as a whole wouldn’t be able to reach herd immunity.

“COVID is not a regional disease. This is a global disease. This is a pandemic,” Adams said.

He said two of the vaccines require cold storage, and one of those (Pfizer BioNTech) requires extremely cold storage.

So, he said, getting the shots to countries across the world isn’t easy.

Therefore, the world can’t get vaccinated fast enough to create a herd immunity.

Adams referenced the current widespread of the virus in India, and how the country is working to vaccinate thousands daily, but that still isn’t fast enough.

“If you vaccinate even 10 million a day, and you’ve got one billion people, that’s going to take you a long, that’s going to take you months,” Adams said.

He said that creates the other issue of reaching what could be herd immunity: The potential spread of variants that might not work against the vaccine.

Adams said those who aren’t vaccinated are at risk of bring spreaders.

“This one mutates just enough that if you give it the opportunity to spread to a large number of individuals, you’re going to develop mutants. Some of which can be more transmissible,” Adams said.

Adams said more people need to get vaccinated, read the reliable medical resources about the safety of the vaccine, and pay attention less to what they see on social media.

He said another issue, that adds to not enough people being vaccinated, it the current vaccines out there are not 100% effective.

“The vaccine is only 95% effective, which means 5% of people that get vaccinated will still get sick, and they could spread the disease,” Adams said.

Adams, and the CDC, said scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent someone from spreading the virus.

He said all hope is not lost to get out of this pandemic.

Adams said we all need to work together to get more people vaccinated.

He said continue to follow the safety precautions until scientists know if the virus can’t spread from vaccinated people and if the vaccine can hold up against the variants.

Adams said he strongly believes we’re going to see COVID-19 around indefinitely, but eventually, how we think of COVID-19 will be similar to how we think of the flu.

“I think we’re going to get to the point where the virus is around, we’re going to see sporadic cases, we’re going to see some deaths. Well, we see cases and we see deaths from influenza,” Adams said.

To make an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccine at Fort Sanders West (220 Fort Sanders West Blvd) you can call 865-374-6159 (Phone Hours are Mon-Fri, 8a – 4:30p) or go online to www.covenanthealth.com/vaccine

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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