VCU infectious disease expert says US could achieve herd immunity by summer

VCU infectious disease expert says U.S. could achieve herd immunity by Summer

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In the past 24-hours, the state reported more than 1,900 additional COVID-19 cases, yet the positivity rate fell to eight percent. The downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases, which is also being observed on a nationwide level, is leading some to suggests that herd immunity could be achieved by in just a few months.

An article with the Wall Street Journal suggests that nationwide herd immunity may be possible to achieve as early as April.

“It’s not outrageous, it’s possible, but only if we significantly ramp up vaccine delivery and vaccine hesitancy significantly decreases,” Dr. Gonzalo Bearman said.

Bearman is an expert on infectious diseases at VCU Health and says while April might be a bit too optimistic for herd immunity, the possibility that the phenomenon could be reached by summer is growing by the day.

“If we vaccinate aggressively, I suspect that within six months, sometime by late summer, we should start to feel a sense of normalcy - that’s my prediction,” Bearman said.

Herd immunity occurs when there are enough people in a population who have become immune to an infectious disease either by a vaccine or by having been infected such that the infection can no longer spread from person to person. The number necessary to achieve herd immunity lies between 60% and 75% of the population who must demonstrate some level of immunity.

“We’ve probably vaccinated 10 plus, maybe even 15 percent of Virginia and when you add that to the number of infected individuals who are post infection, it means we’re getting closer to herd immunity,” Bearman said. “If we can truly get aggressive with vaccine delivery over the course of the next six weeks or so we might be getting close to 50, 60, dare I say even 70 percent.”

Bearman says there could be as much as three times the number of infections than reported COVID-19 tests would suggest. This coupled with a combination of those who have already been infected, those who are being vaccinated and those following safety guidelines could get the state and country closer to herd immunity.

“Having natural immunity or being immune after being infected keeps us safe for at least six months, and reinfection after six months is pretty uncommon,” Bearman said. “The vaccine immunity is as good, if not better, that’s very encouraging.”

Bearman says reinfection drops even more for those who have recovered from the disease and also get the vaccine, but adds that it’s never too late to slip back to dangerous levels of infections. He says the key now is to stay the course.

“We need to be clear with our guidance, and we need to not let down our guard at this time such that we have an adverse event this late in the process,” Bearman said.

Starting Monday, March 1, Governor Ralph Northam will be lifting some coronavirus restrictions.

One of the biggest changes will be an end to the commonwealth’s current stay-at-home curfew from midnight to 5 a.m.

Other changes include:

  • Alcohol sales allowed until midnight - has been until 10 p.m.
  • Overnight summer camps can open May 1 with mitigation measures.
  • Outdoor social gatherings increase to 25 people - up from 10. Indoor gatherings remain capped at 10 people.
  • Outdoor entertainment at 30% capacity - capped at 1,000 people.
  • Indoor entertainment at 30% capacity - capped at 250

Bearman says this is another sign that conditions across the Virginia are improving, but researchers say that washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing will be key to achieving herd immunity even faster as the State’s vaccine efforts continue to improve.

“If we’re doing that it needs to be coupled with very aggressive vaccine delivery across communities and communities of greatest risk in particular,” Bearman said. “We must really decrease the inequality in vaccine delivery that’s bee reported in Virginia and elsewhere.”

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