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Fact or Fiction: Herd Immunity with COVID-19

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 5:27 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Here in the U.S. diseases such as polio and smallpox have been eliminated through vaccinations. Even people who aren’t vaccinated, or can’t be vaccinated, have some protection through a process called herd immunity.

Herd immunity happens when enough people in a community become immune to a disease that it stops spreading.

“Herd immunity can be achieved in two ways,” Roper St Francis Dr. Melissa Ellis-Yarian said. “One is natural infection spreading through a population and the other is with a vaccine.”

Neither of those happen overnight or even in just a few months, she said. We need a vaccine for COVID-19 because natural transmission would be devastating.

“If we allow COVID-19 to spread unchecked through the U.S. the death toll would be enormous. In the millions. The other issue is we don’t know how long immunity lasts after a person becomes infected with COVID-19. If it’s just a short time, then that’s not going to achieve herd immunity for us,” Dr. Ellis-Yarian said.

She told us the best way our communities can achieve herd immunity is by continuing to keep transmission low and when a safe vaccine comes out, for us to get it.

“Yes, the vaccine trials are being spread up. That doesn’t mean they aren’t being done safely,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic has more information on its website about herd immunity and COVID-19.

We asked how many people would have to have the COVID 19 vaccine before we achieve herd immunity.

“Unfortunately, that exact number is not yet know,” Dr. Ellis-Yarian said. “Different experts are estimating - Dr. Fauci said perhaps more than 70% but concedes we don’t know specifically. There’s just so much more to learn about COVID-19.”

Dr. Ellis-Yarian says what we do know is that handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing work in the meantime.

She encourages us all to continue to be patient during this pandemic.

In this press release,the CDC said"Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing upcoming action by the CDC to provide $200 million to jurisdictions for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness.

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