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Don’t freak out over the New York Times story Monday claiming that the expert consensus now is that the United States will probably never reach herd immunity from the coronavirus.
Herd immunity is a handy concept but also a slippery one. And the key point is simply to get the country, and eventually the world, to a near-zero transmission rate — and progress toward that goal continues by leaps and bounds. Beyond that, it’s a guessing game, with expert guesses still merely guesses.
Yes, the rise of virus variants complicates the picture. But most fears here are overhyped: The vaccines still provide major resistance to new forms of the bug. And science suggests that even if variants are more contagious, they’re also likely to be less deadly.
As for Americas’ slowing vaccination rates: That’s a challenge that leadership can overcome.
Herd immunity has always been a moving target: Dr. Anthony Fauci has admitted to changing his stated threshold based on not science but public opinion. “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” he told the Times. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”
Fauci is one expert the Times quotes to claim a scientific consensus. But others disagree. Marty Makary of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, for one, notes that the Times’ piece “dismisses natural immunity.” More than half of the unvaccinated could have natural immunity from getting COVID, as not all cases were tested and recorded — or even, in the case of the asymptomatic, known.
More than half of US adults have received at least one vaccine dose and a third are fully vaxxed. It’s a big reason why New York is at its lowest positivity rate since October. Transmission rates are hitting record lows, too.
Most important, fewer and fewer Americans remain vaccine-hesitant as everyone sees that the treatment is safe and effective. It’s down to 13 percent resolutely determined not to get jabbed. (Sadly, the Times’ despairing highbrow clickbait may hurt that progress, by leading some to think, “Why bother?”) What’s needed is reasoned outreach, addressing as many concerns as possible.
And President Joe Biden needs to lose the mask: His own Centers for Disease Control say they’re not required outdoors for the vaccinated. The chief executive needs to show everyone the increased freedom that comes from being vaccinated.
Don’t panic: Get vaxxed, and encourage all you know to get jabbed, too.
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