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VERIFY: Could COVID-19 vaccines help us reach herd immunity?

Dr. Lamb says, “There are two ways you can get herd immunity. You have a natural immunity because you’ve gotten infected... or you’ve been vaccinated."

HUNTSVILLE, Ala — Dr. Anthony Fauci made headlines after saying it will be “open season” for vaccines by April. He says any adult should be able to get a shot by then. This comes as concern rises that the rollout is just too slow to stop the spread. Our Sydney Stallworth met with an expert to hear how the vaccine rollout is going, and how crucial it is to reaching herd immunity in the U.S.

We sat down with Dr. Neil Lamb, the Vice President of Educational Outreach with HudsonAlpha. 

THE QUESTION

What is 'herd immunity' and will the vaccine rollout help or hurt us in reaching it? 

THE ANSWER

Dr. Neil Lamb says, “There are two ways you can get herd immunity. You have a natural immunity because you’ve gotten infected and you’ve recovered, or you’ve been vaccinated.” He adds, “The goal is if you can vaccinate people and the number of vaccinations plus the number of people that have recovered from the virus-- if you can reach that threshold then you slow the spread and you bring everything under control.”

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. Neil Lamb, the Vice President of Educational Outreach with HudsonAlpha,  says, “We knew these first few months were going to be challenging. More people were going to want vaccine than we had vaccine available.” 

As new coronavirus variants originating from the U.K, South Africa and Brazil have made their way to the U.S., Dr. Lamb says we’re in a race between vaccine and variant. He adds, “You want to get as many people vaccinated as you can to give them some protection. Versus, having suddenly these variants now gain the upper hand and more and more people get infected and the therapies potentially become less useful.”

So far, vaccines are still effective against these new variants. 

He says it is not likely that we’ll see a coronavirus variant that none of our existing protections work against. Dr. Lamb explains, “I think that likelihood is small. If that were to happen, the folks that develop vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines say in about 8 weeks they could have a vaccine that would provide protection for the new variant as well.” 

But, what does herd immunity even actually mean? And how do we get there? 

Dr. Lamb says, “There are two ways you can get herd immunity. You have a natural immunity because you’ve gotten infected and you’ve recovered, or you’ve been vaccinated.” He adds, “The goal is if you can vaccinate people and the number of vaccinations plus the number of people that have recovered from the virus-- if you can reach that threshold then you slow the spread and you bring everything under control.”

What does that threshold look like? 

Dr. Neil Lamb says experts aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye on this number. He explains, "The number of how many people have to have herd immunity is a little tricky. There’s no one calculation that everyone agrees on. I’ve seen everywhere from 65 to 90 percent of the population has to have some form of immunity. One of those two options” He adds, “So, there’s a broad range there.” 

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