Dr. Fauci Says We Need at Least 75% of People to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
Those who want a COVID-19 vaccine will likely be able to get it by mid-2021, according to Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. And Dr. Fauci stressed in a new interview that a majority of the population needs to get vaccinated for us all to get the most benefit.
There are now three coronavirus vaccines that look promising, according to early data released by the pharmaceutical companies. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear to be at least 90% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, while the AstraZeneca vaccine looks to be about 70% effective at this (although there have been some questions about the data and the true efficacy has yet to be determined). To be clear, we don’t know yet if these COVID-19 vaccines will actually prevent infection and transmission, not just symptomatic cases of the illness. But at this point, we clearly need all the help we can get. Moderna and Pfizer have both already applied for authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their vaccines, meaning that the first doses could be available for the “high priorities” in December, Dr. Fauci told Bloomberg.
That will likely include health care providers, frontline medical workers, other types of essential workers, and those at a high risk for severe COVID-19 complications, such as those with certain underlying health conditions. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to finalize the order in which those priority groups will receive the vaccine over the next few months while doses are still limited.
Then by the time we get to April, “they will have likely taken care of all the high priority [people],” Dr. Fauci explained. At that point, those in the general population—those who are generally young and have no underlying health conditions that put them at high risk—“can walk into a CVS or Walgreens and get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “I would think as we get through April and May, we likely would have [enough doses] for those who want to get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority of the people who want to get vaccinated.”
From there, “the challenge is going to be to convince people to get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “Because if you have a highly efficacious vaccine and only 50% of the country gets vaccinated, you’re not going to have that umbrella of protection of herd immunity.” What we really need for 75% to 85% of the population to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, he explained.
Herd immunity is a crucial concept in public health, SELF explained previously. It’s achieved when enough people in a population develop immunity to a particular pathogen (typically through vaccination) that the pathogen is no longer able to spread within the community. It’s especially important to protect those who can’t get vaccinated due to health risks or inadequate access to health care.
As we mentioned, it’s not clear if any of these promising COVID-19 vaccines actually prevent the infection itself and if vaccinated people have a reduced chance of spreading the illness to others. Right now, we only know that they seem to be quite effective at curbing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. But let’s say they do actually prevent the infection itself, along with transmission. In that case, the idea is that if a large enough majority of the population gets the COVID-19 vaccine, those who can’t or don’t get the vaccine would still get some protection thanks to everyone else getting it. And over time, this type of strategy would reduce the spread of COVID-19 to a level at which we could start to get society back to normal.
“If we get to [the point of herd immunity through widespread vaccination], by the end of the second quarter of the year you could have enough protection in this country that the pandemic as we know it would be well suppressed below the danger point,” Dr. Fauci said. Until that happens, though, we still need to keep up those public health strategies we’re well acquainted with at this point: wearing masks in public, staying socially distanced, washing our hands frequently, and—now more than ever—avoiding travel and gatherings.
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What Is Herd Immunity, and Why Does It Matter?