When will the U.S. achieve herd immunity to COVID-19?

The concept of “herd immunity” has been discussed throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but it now appears to be more achievable thanks to recent vaccine breakthroughs. In a Dec. 14 interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted the U.S., thanks to multiple vaccine possibilities, would achieve herd immunity from COVID-19 by the midpoint of 2021. 

On Dec. 14, the United States began distributing the Pfizer and BioNTech-developed vaccine already being distributed in the United Kingdom and in Canada, and the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the Moderna-developed vaccine for use by Dec. 18. 

NBC News, conveying details from an interview on MSNBC conducted with Fauci, underscored expectations that even with the vaccine in distribution, its effects on curbing COVID-19 will take a few months to begin changing the public health landscape.

Fauci predicted that even with both companies ramping up production of the vaccines, that it would be “sometime by the end of March, the beginning of April, that the normal healthy man and woman in the street who has no underlying conditions would likely get it.”

He then projected by late spring or early summer, enough Americans would have taken the COVID vaccine for “the umbrella of herd immunity” to take effect. He then noted, “By the time we get to the fall, we can start approaching some degree of relief where the level of infection will be so low in society we can start essentially approaching some form of normality.” 

Fauci also advised that the vaccine is not a substitute for mask-wearing, and he hinted that masks and other existing public health guidelines are likely to remain through most of 2021. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who witnessed the first U.S. vaccinations at George Washington University Hospital on Dec. 14 called it a “momentous event,” but he emphasized there’s still crucial work to be done to protect Americans. 

“We want to have fewer hospitalizations and we want to get our deaths down because every single death we are experiencing is a tragedy,” Azar said, via USA Today. “We do not have herd immunity. The strategy for herd immunity in the United States is vaccine-induced herd immunity.” 

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Sources: NBC News, USA Today

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