Is herd immunity for Covid-19 still possible?


This time last year, the brand new, stunningly effective Covid-19 vaccines were rolling out across the country, injecting a strong note of optimism into the United States’ once fumbling pandemic response.

Millions of people were lining up daily to get their shots. Instead of the steady drumbeat of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, we were tracking a new number: the percentage of Americans who had been vaccinated. This number, we believed, was our best chance to beat the virus.

The US was caught up in a fever dream of reaching herd immunity, a threshold we might cross where vulnerable individuals — including those too young to be vaccinated or those who didn’t respond well to the vaccines — might be protected anyway because, as a community, we would weave an invisible safety net around them.

With herd immunity, if someone does get infected by a virus, they are surrounded by enough people who are shielded against infection that the virus has nowhere to go. It fails to spread.

As a country, we had reached this point against some formidable viruses, such as rubella and measles. We thought we could get there with Covid-19. We were probably wrong.

“The concept of classical herd immunity may not apply to Covid-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN.

And that “means we’re not going to be without SARS-CoV-2 in the population for a considerable period of time,” said Fauci, who recently co-authored a paper on herd immunity for the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

How we beat measles

Fauci points to measles as an ideal case study in herd immunity.

Like the virus that causes Covid-19, the measles virus spreads through the air. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around them will catch it if they are not immune to it, according to the CDC. Some experts have estimated that the Omicron viruses are as contagious as the measles.

The US eliminated transmission of measles and has successfully kept the virus from circulating in this country because of three things: an extremely effective vaccine; a virus that doesn’t change, or mutate, in significant ways over time; and a successful childhood vaccination campaign.

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One thought on “Is herd immunity for Covid-19 still possible?

  1. Re: “Bloom says, why not put monoclonal antibodies in a spray you could take daily before leaving home to prevent transmission of the virus?”

    For a virus that doesn’t exist — Just a little daily dose every day. That’ll do it, and you will comply your way into slavery and/or early death.


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