While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released welcome news that fully vaccinated people can meet indoors without masks in private settings, you shouldn’t let down your guard completely just yet when interacting in the public.
“Once we get the majority of people vaccinated, it will be harder for the virus to take hold,” Robert Healy, MD, chief Quality officer said.
That’s welcome news but it is causing some confusion on the benefits of being vaccinated now. Carle experts recommend that everyone receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible so that we’re on the best path for developing protections for all.
“This does not mean that there won’t be cases or a cluster of people infected in the future, but it will be much less likely that we see the large number of cases that would stretch our capacity to care for patients,” Dr. Healy said.
Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.
What percentage of a community needs to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity varies.
“The more contagious a disease is, the greater the number of the population that needs to be immune to stop its spread. For example, measles is highly contagious and it’s estimated that 94% of the population must be immune to slow or stop the spread,” Amir Khan, MD, Infectious Disease said.
There are two routes to herd immunity for COVID-19 — vaccines and infections.
“Vaccinating people for COVID-19 is the ideal approach to achieving herd immunity. It means more people face less severe cases or deaths,” Dr. Healy said.
Herd immunity also protects those who can't be vaccinated, such as children or those who have compromised immune systems.
“Vaccine induced herd immunity has proven successful in controlling other serious and contagious diseases such as measles, smallpox, polio, diphtheria and rubella,” Dr. Khan said.
There is not enough data currently to confirm how long the COVID-19 vaccine protects people and limited supply is slowing progress.
“We know that it will still take some time before everyone who wants to receive a vaccine will get one. But it’s important for people with access now commit to getting both doses for the most protection,” Linda Fred, vice president of Pharmacy Services said.
The second way to achieve herd immunity is through infections. When most of the population has had the virus and recovered from it, they develop antibodies against future infection.
“The challenging part to this path to herd immunity is the unknown long-term side effects from the virus,” Vishesh Paul, MD, said.
To reach 70% of the population more than 200 million people would have to become infected. If that many people become sick with COVID-19 at once, it could overwhelm existing healthcare resources and lead to serious complications and even more deaths, especially among more vulnerable populations.
“There are a number of concerns with relying on community infection to create herd immunity to COVID-19. First, it isn't yet clear if infection with the COVID-19 virus makes a person immune to future infection and it could have a tremendous impact on a person’s health long-term,” Dr. Paul said.
While there is a lot still to learn about the effects of COVID-19 on a person’s health, many people report difficulty breathing, new or worsening heart and lung conditions, or continued loss of taste or smell.
Categories: Staying Healthy