July 26, 2021

How Much Herd Immunity Is Enough?

At what point does a country achieve herd immunity? What portion of the population must acquire resistance to the coronavirus, either through infection or vaccination, in order for the disease to fade away and life to return to normal?Since the start of the pandemic, the figure that many epidemiologists have offered has been 60% to 70%. That range is still cited by the World Health Organization and is often repeated during discussions of the future course of the disease.Although it is impossible to know with certainty what the limit will be until we reach it and transmission stops, having a good estimate is important: It gives Americans a sense of when we can hope to breathe freely again.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesRecently, a figure to whom millions of Americans look for guidance — Dr. Anthony Fauci, an adviser to both the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration — has begun incrementally raising his herd-immunity estimate.In the pandemic’s early days, Fauci tended to cite the same 60% to 70% estimate that most experts did. About a month ago, he began saying “70, 75%” in television interviews. And last week, in an interview with CNBC News, he said “75, 80, 85%” and “75 to 80-plus percent.”In a telephone interview the next day, Fauci acknowledged that he had slowly but deliberately been moving the goal posts. He is doing so, he said, partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.Hard as it may be to hear, he said, he believes that it may take close to 90% immunity to bring the virus to a halt — almost as much as is needed to stop a measles outbreak.Asked about Fauci’s conclusions, prominent epidemiologists said that he might be proven right. The early range of 60% to 70% was almost undoubtedly too low

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