Can we still get to herd immunity even with all the people who refuse to get a COVID vaccine?

herd immunity vaccine hesitancy
Photo via Felton Davis/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In order to reach herd immunity in the United States, experts say between 70-85% of the population will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Most of the population is eager to leave the pandemic behind, but some Americans remain hesitant, or outright unwilling, to receive a poke. With so much vaccine hesitancy, is herd immunity even possible?

Herd immunity has long been the goalpost in the COVID-19 pandemic. When enough of the population is inoculated against the virus, we can resume normal activities, including attending large gatherings, with little fear of the virus. The rate of vaccination in the U.S. dropped in mid-April, however, giving rise to concerns that vaccine hesitancy will impede attempts to reach herd immunity. 

The pool of people who have yet to be inoculated is primarily occupied by those that are hesitant about the vaccine. Those who don’t harbor concerns have, for the most part, already received at least one dose. The remainder of people primarily fall into two camps: those who are hesitant to receive the vaccine and those who refuse.

While those who outright refuse to be vaccinated are unlikely to be swayed, a number of news articles outline methods to convince the hesitant that a COVID vaccine is worth it. 

Polls show that most people that fall into the hesitant group are young and conservative-leaning. A poll from the Washington Post and ABC News shows that the vast majority of those who refused to be vaccinated or expressed hesitancy were between 18-64 years old, with most of them falling between 18-39 years old.

The primary reason given for vaccine hesitancy was concern over the vaccine’s safety. More information about the vaccine’s development, as well as more evidence of its efficacy, has proven effective in swaying some hesitant people to get their shot.

Experts have expressed hope that half of the U.S. population will be vaccinated by the end of summer 2021, possibly allowing for a level of herd immunity to be reached before winter. Around 28.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 42.2% of the population has received at least one dose

But if a portion of the population is going to refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccine no matter what, the country will need nearly every hesitant individual to change their mind.

Among every population, there are always those who cannot receive vaccines for a variety of reasons, whether they are restricted by age, medical necessity, or access to transportation and technology. Those of us who can receive vaccinations are protecting those who cannot, but only if enough people are willing to get the shot.

Read more on the coronavirus vaccines:

Sources: Washington Post, Slate, Johns Hopkins, CDC, CNN

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