‘The Perfect Storm Of An Outbreak’: How We Can Reach Herd Immunity For COVID-19

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Elizabeth Friel Contributor
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As the daily coronavirus case count rises with no vaccine currently available, a possible answer to the pandemic could be herd immunity, according to Mayo Clinic.

The herd immunity threshold is when the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than the proportion still vulnerable to the disease.

Some health experts estimate that 70% of Americans, over 200 million people, would have to recover from COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, there are other estimates that place the herd immunity threshold as low as 43%, according to U.S.News.

A model of SARS-CoV-2, known as the novel coronavirus Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

Vaccines and natural infection are the two routes available to reach herd immunity with COVID-19 in the United States. 

A vaccine should be widely available by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Coronavirus Daily podcast last Thursday. A vaccine will first be offered to healthcare workers, those with underlying health issues, the most vulnerable and the elderly. Dr. Fauci expressed that with an effective vaccine, he hopes to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

Natural infection is the other path to herd immunity. Once a person has recovered from a disease, they typically develop antibodies that fight off the illness in the future. 

Sweden has not declared herd immunity as its official strategy, but has been using the concept throughout the pandemic, with mixed results. The Swedish government decided against lockdowns, and instead trusts its citizens to take personal precautions. (RELATED: ‘An Amazing Deal’: U.S. Secures Most Of Global Remdesivir Supply)

As of Thursday, the United States has a total of 2,679,230 cases and 128,024 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with a population of about 328 million. Sweden has a total of 69,692 cases and 5,370 deaths with a population of about 10 million.

Mayo Clinic reports that a vaccine would be the ideal solution, but until a vaccine is created, it is crucial to follow health and safety precautions as prescribed by experts. Just this past week, America saw its biggest spike in daily COVID-19 case count, with 40,000 new infected individuals in just one day. 

However, there are still potential unknowns, for example, some researchers are still uncertain whether those infected with COVID-19 are immune to future infection, which could impact the effectiveness of herd immunity. Fauci has described the current situation as “the perfect storm of an outbreak,” and regardless of whether herd immunity is achieved naturally or through mass vaccinations, there is still a long way to go.