Stubborn Ignorance

5 May 2021


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

America Will Fail to Reach Herd Immunity


The American response to the pandemic has improved radically since the departure of Donald Trump. The Biden administration has done an exceptional job in getting Americans vaccinated. However, the government can only provide the vaccine; it cannot make people take it. The hesitancy and resistance to vaccination is broad enough that the country is not going to achieve herd immunity that would move the virus into the history books. Instead, the next couple of decades will see fairly large outbreaks in the country, and around the world, because too few people opted for vaccination.

The premise of herd immunity is simple. When no one has an immunity, a disease can run rampant through the population. As more members of the group are innoculated, the disease has fewer and fewer potential hosts to infect. Eventually, the number of potential hosts is so small that the disease has nowhere to go. This is the situation with diseases like the measles. In some small communities where few are inoculated, there are occasional outbreaks, but in general, the society as a whole has nothing about which to worry.

The question for herd immunity and Covid-19 is just how many people need to be vaccinated before the disease fades out. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have estimated that the figure is anywhere from 70% to 85% of the population. The wide rage stems from several partially known numbers like the transmissability of the virus as well as its endurance outside a host.

Currently, the US has something like 100 million fully vaccinated. The total US population is roughly 330 million. Those who have had their first dose of a two-dose treatment add to the former figure as they are protected to a reasonable degree. Yet the total is still a long way from the herd-immunity range.

The sad fact is that the US is not going to reach that level any time soon. Part of the problem is that children cannot be vaccinated until further testing is completed. Right now, only those 16 or older can get a shot. There is some hope this week will see that lowered to 12. Nevertheless, that leaves around 48 million kids who cannot yet be vaccinated. As a result, it would require everyone 12 and up to be vaccinated in order to achieve the 85% threshold.

There is no chance of giving every adult in America the vaccine because so many will not take it. NPR reported, "A recent NPR/Marist poll found that one in four Americans said they would refuse a coronavirus vaccine outright if offered. Another 5% are 'undecided' about whether they would get the shot. Although the numbers were highest for Republican men and residents of rural areas, there were still a significant number of people across all ages and demographic groups who claim they will say 'no'."

There are methods by which to chip away at these figures. The most effective would be to require a vaccination as part of one's health insurance. Insurers can and should deny coverage to anyone who is not vaccinated by September 1. Freedom of choice has consequences. A softer approach is peer-to-peer discussion and information sharing. There are other methods in between of varying effectiveness.

While 50-60% vaccinated would be a desirable level in the near future, long term it means the virus will continue to be a background problem. There will be large outbreaks from time to time. There will be mutations that could be more contagious and more lethal. They could even be resistant to the vaccines already injected. Regionally, there could be herd immunity. For instance, North Berkeley near San Francisco has a 99% adult vaccination rate. Nationally, though, it isn't going to happen.

America is going to come up short, and long term, that is a costly and foolish outcome brought on by individual stubbornness and ignorance.

© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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