'Herd Immunity' Not Possible in U.S., Experts Say, But We May Not Need It

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

It’s becoming increasingly clear as the pandemic continues to wind down that the goal of achieving “herd immunity” in the U.S. won’t be possible — at least, as it’s defined by public health officials. Too many of us decline to be vaccinated for the U.S. to meet the target goal of 70-90 percent of citizens who have either been vaccinated or contracted Covid-19.

Instead, we’ve got to accept the fact that the virus will become a “manageable threat” and continue to bedevil the world for years to come.

“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.”

Part of the problem is the coronavirus itself. The virus is mutating at an alarming rate. Some of the variants have been shown to be more infectious. Some are more virulent and cause more severe symptoms.

But so far, the vaccines that have been approved for use have demonstrated great effectiveness against all Covid variants. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some virologists believe that a variant is going to come along that is resistant to the current crop of vaccines. Then what?

For the moment, this scenario is unlikely. It’s probable that the vaccine will give at least some protection, which means fewer hospitalizations and deaths regardless of what variant is causing the infection.

New York Times:

If the herd immunity threshold is not attainable, what matters most is the rate of hospitalizations and deaths after pandemic restrictions are relaxed, experts believe.

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.”

In other words, we have to learn to live with it — just as Donald Trump said back in October. Something we should have been doing all along. In our helicopter society where we infantilize adults, assuming they are incapable of making their own decisions, the kind of control exercised by the government over our every move for more than a year with comparatively little backlash should never have been countenanced.

We have become a more docile society because of this pandemic. Politicians, like the jungle animals they are, sense the fear and uncertainty and will try to exploit it by claiming they are acting to protect our health. It is a means of control with no other goal except the exercise of raw power.

We will never “return to normal.” We will not be allowed to. Too many in power would lose too much if we ever got back to life the way it was.



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