While initial estimates for America to reach herd immunity against COVID-19 set the number at 40%-50%, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top immunologist in the country, has recently inflated that number up to 80% and beyond.
While nearly 70% of those recently surveyed by The Economist/YouGov said they have either already received the vaccine or are planning to get it, 18% said they will not be taking the shots.
When asked if they could be persuaded to get the vaccine, 79% said “no.”
The poll surveyed 1,500 U.S. adult citizens online between May 1 and May 4.
The findings appear to make reaching herd immunity far more difficult. Last month, Fauci said in an interview with CNBC News that the number for such immunity could well be “85 percent.”
Other experts are now saying we may never reach herd immunity. “Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers,” The New York Times reported in April.
“The virus is unlikely to go away,” Emory University evolutionary biologist Rustom Antia told the Times. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”
“We will not achieve herd immunity as a country or a state or even as a city until we have enough immunity in the population as a whole,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Times.
Nearly 35% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — including nearly 70% of Americans older than 65. But according to the Times, some 30% of Americans are hesitant to get the vaccine.
Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served on former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force and is now President Biden’s chief medical adviser on COVID-19, sought to explain the new pessimistic predictions.
“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” he told the paper. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense. I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”
The Times also laid out why the estimates for herd immunity are going up.
“That is because the initial calculations were based on the contagiousness of the original version of the virus. The predominant variant now circulating in the United States, called B.1.1.7 and first identified in Britain, is about 60% more transmissible,” the paper explained. “As a result, experts now calculate the herd immunity threshold to be at least 80%. If even more contagious variants develop, or if scientists find that immunized people can still transmit the virus, the calculation will have to be revised upward again.”