Herd immunity is a term that has resurfaced recently as a result of the recent emergency use authorization of COVID-19 vaccinations. What does it mean? And if we will eventually reach herd immunity here in the United States, when will it happen?

Here’s a quick rundown of what we can expect.

First of all, what is herd immunity, and how does it work?

Herd immunity is verbiage used to describe the slowing of a disease’s spread across a populated area “when a major section of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease,” according to researchers. The transmission of the disease is slowed when herd immunity has been reached. If enough people in a community are immune to the illness, it can somewhat safeguard those who aren’t. So if enough people in your community have either had COVID-19 and recovered or have received a COVID-19 vaccine, it will lower the number of new cases.

Previous infection or immunization can provide immunity. However, researchers believe that vaccination, rather than illness, is the best way to build herd immunity.

To have herd immunity to COVID-19, what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated?

The number of people who must have immunity in order for herd immunity to work varies depending on the disease. In other words, each infectious disease is different. This is because not all infectious diseases are contagious in the same way. Measles, for example, is highly contagious and requires vaccination of approximately 95% of the population before herd immunity is achieved.

It also varies depending on the area. Wearing masks and avoiding big group gatherings can help slow the coronavirus from spreading, but there is a lot of variation in how well communities are following these precautions.

It’s also worth noting that researchers aren’t clear how long protection from infection or vaccination lasts. They are still collecting data, so that information should be released soon, but for now it’s still a mystery. Early estimates are that when 70% of the population receives the vaccine, herd immunity will be achieved, however it is too soon to say for sure.

How long will it take for the United States to achieve herd immunity?

Again, a lot of factors come into play. Perhaps most crucially, it is contingent on the public’s willingness to be vaccinated and how soon this can be accomplished. Dr. Fauci, on the other hand, predicted in December that we’d be there by the fall of 2021. New viral strains, on the other hand, could change that (see below).

What are the challenges to achieving herd immunity in the United States?

Vaccines are, without a doubt, a key component of achieving herd immunity. However, if the public is not persuaded to get the vaccine, we may never acquire herd immunity.

In addition, new viral strains continue to emerge. The new strain that appears to be more contagious, which recently emerged in the United Kingdom, has now spread to the United States. New strains have also emerged in Brazil and South Africa, which is also raising concerns. So far thankfully, none of these new strains appear to be vaccination resistant. However, experts are becoming less optimistic about a return to “normal” activity as soon as later this year. The new strain of COVID-19 that’s more contagious will obviously be more difficult to contain.

Will life return to normal if herd immunity is ever achieved?

This extremely infectious virus that has spread across the globe is still evolving. Because of this, researchers believe the virus will not be eradicated anytime soon. COVID-19, in other words, is unlikely to “disappear completely,” as some had hoped. It could however, become a less serious concern than it is today, if it is managed properly.

That is why vaccination of as many individuals as possible is critical. Slowing the virus’s spread — and staying on top of it through testing and contact tracing — is required before limitations can be relaxed.

Vaccine boosters are required because we don’t know how long immunity lasts. This may work in the same way that we get flu shots every year or tetanus shots every ten years. The good news is that the more individuals who get (and stay) vaccinated, the lower the risk, and we can begin to live with fewer constraints.

In the meantime, what can I do to lower my chances of catching or spreading the COVID-19 virus?

Masks, social isolation, and excellent hygiene are all recommended. You may be tired of hearing about it, but it’s necessary to lower your chances of contracting and transmitting the illness. This also applies to those who have already been exposed to COVID-19 and have recovered. Repeat infections are uncommon, although they can happen.

Last but not least

Experts do not yet have all of the answers. That’s why determining a particular percentage for herd immunity and when it might occur in the United States is impossible to say at this present time.