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Health expert weighs in on where Washington stands in reaching COVID-19 herd immunity

A UW epidemiologist said we need at least 85% of the total population to be immune or vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity.

SEATTLE — With the COVID-19 delta variant continuing to spread across Washington state and the country, some health experts said, in theory, more people becoming infected with the disease means reaching herd immunity faster.

But infection is only one part of the equation.

“Immunity can occur from two main sources, vaccine or infection. And of course, we would like immunity to be achieved through vaccines, we don't want people to be infected and overrun our hospitals, and some of them will die," said Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington.

Because we still don't know how long antibodies last after infection, Mokdad said it is hard to count the number of people who have been infected with the delta variant towards herd immunity levels.

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There is also the fact that children under 12 are still unable to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which leaves an entire part of the population that can not get the vaccine and that we don't want to become infected.

Mokdad said based on what we know about COVID-19, we need at least 85% of the total population to be immune or vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

As of Thursday morning, the Washington State Department of Health reported 58.4% of the total population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While 56.2% of the total U.S. population was fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, there are still many people who are unwilling to get the vaccine.

“Thirty percent of those who are eligible are not willing to take the vaccine. So yes, we have a long way to get to the immunity, but it's possible," said Mokdad, who added children getting the vaccine will be a big game-changer. 

But he warned people must do their part to get vaccinated before we see a new variant.

“Right now, in the United States, we have a lot of infections from [the delta varriant],” said Mokdad. “Previously, if you are infected from alpha or any other variant, there is not much cross-immunity from the previous version. So, the idea is to get herd immunity through vaccines.” 

He stressed that despite the cooler months and people being inside more, his projections do not show a surge in cases this winter, thanks in part to boosters, but also if 95% of Americans continue to wear a mask when they can't social distance.


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