President Joe Biden said Monday that the U.S. would need to vaccinate 97% or 98% of its population to get back to a normal, post-pandemic life, but medical experts say that number is unrealistic and unnecessary.
Biden made the comment as he took his booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. When asked what it would take for America to “get back to normal,” the president said America must push much further past its current vaccination rate of 55.4%.
Biden claimed that 97% to 98% of Americans need to be vaccinated. “I think we’ll get awful close. But I’m not the scientist,” he said. “I think one thing is for certain. A quarter of the country can’t go unvaccinated and us not continue to have a problem.”
REPORTER: “How many Americans need to be vaccinated for us to get back to normal?”
BIDEN: “97%, 98%. I think we’ll get awful close. But I’m not the scientist. I think one thing is for certain. A quarter of the country can’t go unvaccinated and us not continue to have a problem.” pic.twitter.com/oT0zRXxpJo
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) September 27, 2021
It is unclear where Biden pulled those numbers from, and medical experts who spoke with the Daily Caller said they aren’t sure either.
“I would be surprised if the right one were as high as 97-98%. I’m not sure where that estimate is coming from, or which advisor/agency is coming up with it,” Dr. John Moore, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University told the Daily Caller. “We will never get to 97-98% vaccination in the USA, even if we’re only talking about adults. So wherever the president’s number comes from, it’s purely aspirational.”
“The estimates [for the necessary vaccination rate] are about 85%, which means that almost all eligible for the vaccine now need to take it,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Washington.
The Biden administration has placed a heavy emphasis on increasing America’s vaccination rate in recent weeks and announced a forthcoming vaccine mandate for all companies with 100 or more employees.
But Biden’s top medical advisor, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, has never cited a need to vaccinate nearly every single American either. (RELATED: CDC Chief Overrules Her Own Advisers After Panel Doesn’t Recommend Booster Shots For Frontline Workers)
Fauci initially said a vaccination rate of 60-70% was needed to reach a sufficient level of herd immunity, before admitting that he had lowballed the number because he didn’t want to overwhelm the American people. Even then, Fauci’s number for herd immunity has wavered between 70% and 85%.
The total vaccination rate may not necessarily be the exact metric to even focus on, Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Daily Caller. “Herd immunity is not necessary for control to be achieved. The goal is not to eradicate or eliminate cases, but to shift cases to a mild spectrum of illness through vaccination. If high risk people are protected against severe disease, I think the most meaningful goal has been achieved.”
“Achieving the highest vaccination rate possible should be something we strive for, but the most important people to be vaccinated in terms of decreasing the morbidity and mortality of the infection are those at high risk for serious disease,” he added. (RELATED: Scientific Panel Investigating COVID-19 Origins Disbands)
Adalja believes it’s still important that more Americans get vaccinated in order for the U.S. to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror for good. “Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, not enough high risk people are immune and that is why hospital capacity concerns again arose,” Adalja said.
Moore added that COVID-19 has been far more under control in recent months in areas with higher vaccination rates, which tend to be politically liberal areas. Even those highly-vaccinated places aren’t anywhere near Biden’s number of 97%, though. “The point is that the kind of vaccination rates achieved in some of the blue states clearly have a major impact on the pandemic in those states/counties.”
“Those rates are nowhere near the high 90s. But if red states had the same rates as in those high-rate blue states, the pandemic would be under a great deal more control than is presently the case,” Moore continued. “Even getting the red states up to the blue state average would make a huge difference.”
No country in the world has achieved a 97% or higher vaccination rate, and yet some of them have successfully returned to a fairly normal mode of operation, Dr. Monica Gandhi, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, pointed out. “Every country or region is going to have a different definition of endemicity. Denmark decided at a 74% vaccination rate and low cases (80% for those over 12) when this country dropped all restrictions on September 10 and Norway (who dropped restrictions on September 25) at a 67% full vaccination rate.”
“Yes, there is no evidence that we need that high of a vaccination rate to get back to normal,” Gandhi added. “Therefore, the country has to decide for itself what this number is to accept endemicity in terms of vaccination rates and cases, with the latter also being driven by higher rates of natural immunity in the U.S. than other countries with high access to the vaccines.”
Only three countries currently have full vaccination rates above 80%: Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and Malta. None are above 84%, but all three have seen drastic drops in COVID-19 deaths compared to pre-vaccine levels, even when cases have increased due to the delta variant.
The U.S. has also successfully eliminated other pathogens with lower vaccination rates, including those which are often required for children to attend school. The nationwide MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination rate among adolescents is 91.9%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vaccination coverage during the 2019-2020 school year for varicella (chicken pox) was 94.8%, according to the CDC. Just 92% of Americans are inoculated against polio. It is unclear how the Biden administration intends to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate above that of any other vaccine in America.