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Coronavirus herd immunity ‘unlikely’ if too many people refuse a vaccine, Fauci says

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Jun. 29–Herd immunity against COVID-19 is unlikely if not enough Americans get a vaccine, a top health expert says.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious diseases expert, said Sunday on CNN that he would “settle” for a coronavirus vaccine that’s 70% to 75% effective, as that would bring the United States to “herd immunity level.” But if too many people refuse to get the shot when it’s available, herd immunity likely won’t be achieved, he says.

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Herd immunity is achieved when a high enough percentage of a community is immune to a disease — through vaccination or prior infection — that person-to-person spread is unlikely and everyone, not just those immune, is protected. Measles, mumps and polio are examples. Once very common in the United States, those diseases are much less of a problem now as vaccines have established herd immunity.

Vaccine development can take years, but dozens of research groups across multiple sectors are racing to get one on the market as health experts say having a vaccine is crucial to end the coronavirus pandemic. And Fauci said on CNN he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there could be at least one vaccine candidate that could be available and effective by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

But he said public health officials are unsure how effective the vaccine would be until testing is done.

“I doubt seriously that any vaccine will even be 100% protective,” Fauci told CNN. “The best we’ve ever done is measles, which is 97 to 98% effective. That would be wonderful if we get there, I don’t think we will.”

A CNN poll of more than 1,100 American adults in early May found that 33% said they would “not try to get vaccinated” if a COVID-19 shot was “widely available at a low cost.” When asked on CNN if the United States could achieve herd immunity with one-third of Americans refusing to get a vaccine that’s 70-75% effective, Dr. Fauci responded: “No. Unlikely.”

With COVID-19, experts say society can’t rely on prior or “natural” infection to achieve herd immunity.

First, it’s unclear if being infected with the coronavirus makes a person immune in the future, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, the virus has a much higher risk of severe illness and death than other diseases the U.S. has achieved herd immunity for, such as chickenpox, per Johns Hopkins University.

So, Johns Hopkins says the best-case scenario is maintaining or reducing infection levels until a vaccine is ready.

But other polls have also found that many Americans may refuse to get a vaccine when one is available.

An Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll of 1,056 adults across the country in mid-May found that less than half, 49%, said they plan to get a coronavirus vaccine. Another 31% aren’t sure if they will and 20% said they won’t get it, McClatchy News previously reported.

Of those who won’t get it, 70% cited concerns about side effects and 40% expressed concern the shot would give them the virus.

Similarly, a poll from ABC News and The Washington Post found that 27% of adults said they “definitely” or “probably” won’t get the vaccine. Half of those say they don’t trust vaccines in general.

But vaccines “almost never” cause illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ___


This article is written by Bailey Aldridge from The News & Observer and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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