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The U.S. may not reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving

Members of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team fear herd immunity won’t come until Thanksgiving

Vivian Zayas holds onto the walker once belonging to her recently deceased mother Ana Martinez while her family prays before Thanksgiving dinner, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, in Deer Park, N.Y. Members of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team fear herd immunity won’t come until Thanksgiving 2021.
Vivian Zayas holds onto the walker once belonging to her recently deceased mother Ana Martinez while her family prays before Thanksgiving dinner, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, in Deer Park, N.Y. Members of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team fear herd immunity won’t come until Thanksgiving 2021.
John Minchillo, Associated Press

Members of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team fear the United States won’t reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving, The Daily Beast reports.

  • Herd immunity occurs when the majority of a population — somewhere around 70% — becomes immune to a virus because they were either infected or vaccinated, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

What’s going on?

Top officials within Biden’s team have warned their team internally that the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and the COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom (named B.1.1.7) and South Africa could delay herd immunity, The Daily Beast reports.

Why are they worried?

Per The Daily Beast, officials are worried about “the likelihood that more variants will emerge in the coming months, and the possibility that those variants will evade the vaccines.”

According to The Daily Beast:

“Together, the recent data has alarmed health officials in the Biden administration who are now raising questions about what more can be done to not only shorten the herd immunity timeline — not just to return Americans to some sort of normalcy but also to ensure the country does not experience another surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Officials have spent the last several days discussing ways to ramp up genome sequencing to track variants and how to push out the message that Americans need to more closely follow public health guidelines to reduce transmission as B117 variant cases begin to increase.”

Per the Washington Times, Biden told CBS News in an interview before the Super Bowl that it would be “very difficult” to hit herd immunity “much before the end of the summer.”

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Daily Beast he is “cautiously optimistic” the U.S. can hit herd immunity by the beginning of fall.

  • “I still think that is possible,” Fauci said. “As I’ve said before, once we get into mass vaccination when the general public starts getting it by the end of the spring — April, May, June … and we get past any vaccine hesitancy, then we should be able to reach that 70% or 75% mark. We’re going in the right direction.”
  • Fauci said he is concerned about the ongoing variants, though.

Predictions

The World Health Organization warned recently that herd immunity likely won’t happen in 2021, as I explained for the Deseret News.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said this means social distancing might be required for another year.

  • “Because even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we are not going to achieve any level of population immunity, or herd immunity in 2021 and even if it happens in a couple of pockets in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” Swaminathan said, according to The Associated Press.