May 3, 2021 - Health

Some experts now say U.S. unlikely to reach herd immunity

Illustration of a person staring into the light at the end of a tunnel, the light is in the shape of a coronavirus cell.  
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some public health experts and scientists now believe that the U.S. is unlikely to reach herd immunity, and that the coronavirus will instead become "a manageable threat" that circulates for years, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Many emerging viruses become part of the viral ecology. The number of hospitalizations and deaths that endemic COVID-19 causes could depend on several factors, including how often people are reinfected, vaccine effectiveness and adoption, and virus mutations.

What they're saying: “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,” White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci told the Times.

  • “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense,” he said. “I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down."
  • “The virus is unlikely to go away,” Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”

Go deeper: How the coronavirus pandemic could end

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