Vaccine Hesitancy Makes Herd Immunity Goal Harder

Vials with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccineat a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site  in the Bronx. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Scientists and doctors are warning the number of Americans who intend to either delay or not get a coronavirus vaccine is large enough that it can prevent the country from reaching herd immunity levels.

In order for coronavirus herd immunity to be achieved, between 70-80% of the population must be vaccinated. But according to a survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, while 51% of unvaccinated adults definitely plan to be vaccinated and 26% probably will, 14% are ambivalent about the shot and 10% said they definitely will not.

At least 8% of Americans have been vaccinated, and studies have shown that as more people get vaccinated, and many excitedly take pictures and post them on social media, the less hesitant others are to receive the shot.

“We have to work very hard to establish trust in the vaccine and access to the vaccine in all communities to ensure we reach vaccination levels to produce herd immunity,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told the Wall Street Journal.

Vaccine hesitancy is prompted by a variety of factors, including but not limited to suspicion of pharmaceutical companies, mistrust in government, and a larger movement against vaccines on medicinally false grounds of vaccines weakening the immune system and causing neurological disease.

Doctors have said the best way to combat the reluctance is to be willing to sit and listen to their patient’s concerns, and to be honest. Many hold virtual question and answer sessions to explain the science behind the vaccine, and the possible side effects. But many are also blunt, and will contrast the 48 hours of fatigue and feverishness many feel after the vaccine with the long-term effects of the virus, which include kidney failure, chronic weakness, and serious blood clotting.

If these people refuse to be vaccinated, they can still contract the disease, become extremely sick and overwhelm hospitals, and keep the virus circulating in the larger population. Vaccines prevent individuals from spreading or becoming dangerously sick from the coronavirus, but does not prevent people from contracting a mild version entirely.

“From a prevention and infection-control standpoint, if you ignore 50% of the people because you say, ‘Well, I offered,’ we’re all still at risk,” said Dr. Parinda Khatri, chief clinical officer of 14 counties in Tennessee.


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