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Health experts: Herd immunity is unlikely in the U.S.

Posted at 5:01 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 19:15:24-04

MAGIC VALLEY — Herd immunity is a term we have become all too familiar with during the pandemic. It's a point we have been trying to reach to get back to a normal life.

But now experts are saying the U.S. may never reach that point.

Local health officials say the main thing stopping us from getting there is vaccine hesitancy.

“Because we have seen so many people reluctant to get the vaccine and we are seeing relatively low vaccination rates for covid, the probability of reaching a point where this strain of coronavirus becomes almost non-existent seems very improbable,” Dr. Joshua Kern, Vice President of Medical Affairs for St. Luke's Magic Valley, said.

In Idaho, 35% of the population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but health officials say that is not nearly enough to reach herd immunity.

“We are still seeing declining numbers in Idaho but we’re still seeing cases in most communities if not all communities, so we’re certainly not approaching that level right now," Kern said.

“I think the best thing would be for everybody to get the vaccine. If we got up to 80-90 percent vaccination rates we probably would reach herd immunity," Kern said.

Although vaccine hesitancy is the main factor in preventing us from reaching herd immunity, experts say COVID-19 may just become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate throughout the nation for the next couple of years.

They say vaccine hesitancy has been more apparent in this pandemic compared to others.

“Unequivocally we have seen greater levels of vaccine hesitancy than in past periods maybe because with previous versions like the H1N1 influenza vaccine was still the same technology as the previous influenza vaccine it was just to this new strain," Kern said.

A study done by a University of Idaho professor, Bert Baumgaertner, found one of the main factors that contributes to vaccine hesitancy is convenience, the main factor they believed played a role in reluctance towards the vaccine in Idaho.

“Especially in a place like Idaho one, it’s pretty rural so people have to come from a lot further away to get vaccinated. The other component is the way you sign up so most of those sign-ups happen online and we don’t have an equal distribution of internet access,” Baumgaertner said.

But health officials say vaccines remain the best option to return to normal.

“I think the best thing would be for everybody to get the vaccine we have shown definitively very safe and very effective and frankly if we got up to 80-90 percent vaccination rates we probably would reach herd immunity and this would cease to be a problem for Americans," Kern said.