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Seattle health expert says reaching herd immunity unlikely

Since the start of the pandemic, a vaccine was seen as the endgame. Now the focus is shifting.

SEATTLE — While Washington state is making progress in getting people vaccinated against COVID-19, health officials said reaching herd immunity is looking more unlikely.

Since the start of the pandemic, a vaccine was seen as the endgame. Now, in the midst of an ongoing vaccine rollout, health experts say reaching herd immunity is looking less doable.

"There's a lot of COVID-19 circulating in our communities right now, and so, the bad news is it's going to be very difficult to get rid of it,” said Jerry Cangelosi, a University of Washington professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

Cangelosi said the path toward normalcy would be a unique one.

"I guess the one small silver lining is that in addition to the vaccination, which probably we'll get to eventually about 60 to 70% of us, there's also a lot of people who've been infected, and they have some level of immunity as well," said Cangelosi.

But if herd immunity is no longer the goal, what is?

"It's not something that we can look to the recent past and say, well this is how it's going to work," said Cangelosi. "It's just different, and that's what makes it so difficult for me to answer your question about that."

President Joe Biden and national health experts said they are focused on getting as many people vaccinated as possible and managing the virus that is likely to stick around.

"If we do that, then I think it will have an effect, and we'll see a lot, we'll see the disease continue to go down,” said Cangelosi.