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How much longer will we need to wear masks?

More people in Alabama are eligible to get the COVID vaccine, but the slow vaccine rollout could mean wearing masks for six months or more.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — How much longer will we need to wear masks? It's a question that's on everyone's mind.

Now that more people will soon be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama, we could be one step closer to reaching herd immunity.

Herd immunity happens when enough people are immune to a highly contagious disease and the spread of the virus is unlikely.

This can happen with COVID-19 if enough people get the virus and recover, but Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ali Hassoun says that is not the safest or most efficient way.

"It's been seen over this last year, the mortality from the infection is high," said Dr. Hassoun.

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To reach herd immunity safely and quickly, Dr. Hassoun says people must get vaccinated, but the slow vaccine rollout could mean masking for longer.

Dr. Hassoun said, "At the moment, we're going to need to be wearing the masks at least another six months."

He says we could see some normalcy sooner, but it really depends.

Starting February 8th, more people in Alabama will be eligible to get the COVID vaccine. ADPH has expanded who can be vaccinated to people 65 and older, teachers, and other groups.

Because there isn't enough vaccine to go around right now, when we will reach herd immunity is up in the air.

"I think if we get it right where we can get the vaccine doses available to everyone interested to get it, you might be able to do it in three to four months," said Dr. Hassoun. "If we are going to do it the same way as we are doing it at the moment, no. This is going to take much longer."

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Even if we had enough vaccine doses for everyone right now, Dr. Hassoun says around 60% to 70% of people must actually be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

Dr. Hassoun said, "In North Alabama, we have about 500,000 population wise. If we can reach about 300,000 vaccinated, a little bit more than that, we might be able by that to reduce the transmission of the virus between each other."

Dr. Hassoun says getting people vaccinated quickly can prevent more mutations of the virus, like the new UK variant, from spreading. He says variants are unpredictable, and to prevent the unpredictable, we need to do a better job of vaccinating the public.

Even with the slow rollout, Dr. Hassoun says we can still see some benefit as the community becomes vaccinated.