With all these new coronavirus vaccines, when will we achieve herd immunity?

How does herd immunity work, as a group of masked people gather closely together
Photo via Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Several coronavirus vaccines are showing promising results in their final phases of testing. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both around 95% effective, and experts have begun suggesting potential timelines to distribute vaccines to American citizens beginning in December 2020. The promising news of impending coronavirus vaccines is prompting many to wonder if and when we will achieve herd immunity—they’re also asking how does herd immunity work.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s possible the United States will achieve herd immunity by the end of summer or fall 2021.

Fauci told Colorado Gov. Jared Polis he predicts the American public will have access to a coronavirus vaccine by April. Fauci said if the “overwhelming majority” of Americans get vaccinated by the end of June 2021, the U.S. could achieve herd immunity.

Herd immunity works when enough of a population develops immunity to a disease that the disease no longer poses a threat. Vaccines help populations achieve herd immunity by providing immunity without spreading the disease. Without vaccines, diseases continue to spread among children even if most adults have been infected and recovered, ultimately risking reinfection among adults, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Roughly 70% of the population would need coronavirus antibodies to “halt” the pandemic, according to Mayo Clinic. If Americans achieve herd immunity in 2021, life could return to pre-pandemic normalcy. 

The increasing prevalence of the anti-vax movement could hinder America’s chances of achieving herd immunity, however. Hoards of anti-vaxxers have posted false information online about the side effects of vaccines and the vaccine development process.

Not everyone opposed to the vaccine is a devout anti-vaxxer. A November Gallup poll asked Americans if they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was immediately available to them at no cost. While 42% said no, only 12% of that group said they “don’t trust vaccines in general.” Many who said no have worries about the quick development of the vaccine and want to know more about its safety.

Scientific experts are now tasked with fighting anti-vax propaganda online, not a simple feat. Many experts believe highlighting the safety of the coronavirus vaccine and making the development process more transparent would encourage people to get vaccinated. 

“Providing clear information that explains why the public should trust the process of developing these vaccines and why they are worthy of their trust would go a long way in persuading people to get them,” Jennifer Reich, a sociologist at University of Colorado Denver who has studied vaccine hesitation, told Business Insider.

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Sources: Axios, Mayo Clinic, Business Insider, JAMA

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