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The U.S. wants herd immunity. Here’s how we could lose it

Officials have called for the country to reach herd immunity. It’s possible to lose it, though

SHARE The U.S. wants herd immunity. Here’s how we could lose it
Officials have called for the country to reach herd immunity. It’s possible to lose it, though

Officials have called for the country to reach herd immunity. It’s possible to lose it, though.

Peter Hamlin, Associated Press

Officials recently shared concern that the United States could one day reach herd immunityagainst the novel coronavirus and then lose it. How is that possible? There are a number of factors at play.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunityhappens when the majority of a population — somewhere close to 70% — becomes immune to a specific virus or illness because they were either infected or vaccinated, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts have said that the United States will return to normal once the country achieves herd immunity — mainly through the vaccine. There is a more grim version of this where everyone gets infected with the virus and only those who defeat it create the herd immunity. That’s a little dark, though.

How could herd immunity end?

Dr. Jorge Rodriguez recently told CNN that there is some concern about herd immunityending even after we achieve it. So how would that happen?

For one, anti-vaxxers could prevent herd immunity since not enough people would be willing to get vaccinated. This includes adults who might be healthy enough to carry the virus without showing major symptoms, he said.

  • “It’s important to vaccinate as many adults as possible as soon as possible,” Rodriguez said. “If you want to open up America, get vaccinated,” Rodriguez said.

Variants to the novel coronavirus could also hurt herd immunity chances, Rodriguez told CNN.

  • “The more replication there is, the more mistakes are going to happen,” Rodriguez said.
  • “Think of a virus as a necklace full of different-colored beads. Maybe there are only eight colored beads to choose from. And in position No. 1, you need a red bead. Position No. 2 is a green bead. That’s the genetic code — that sequence of bead colors,” he said.
  • “When a virus replicates, it is supposed to make an exact replica of those bead colors. But every once in a while, maybe a green bead gets into where a red bead is supposed to be.”

Are there any other fears with herd immunity?

The Daily Beast reported that Biden administration officials are worried that a slowdown in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine might limit the chances of herd immunity, especially if COVID-19 variants continue to pop up.

According to The Daily Beast, officials fear that “the likelihood that more variants will emerge in the coming months, and the possibility that those variants will evade the vaccines.”