The vaccination ‘race’ to herd immunity and hurdles to get there

VIDEO: The vaccination ‘race’ to herd immunity and hurdles to get there

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston healthcare leaders say in order to get mass-scale immunity against COVID-19, they’re running a race not against each other, but between vaccinations and the variables that stand in the way.

“The good guy in this race is vaccinations. The bad guy, the guy you don’t want to win is sickness, illness,” Roper St. Francis Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Oliverio said. “There are two ways to get there, number one is to get infected and we definitely don’t want that.”

Right now, officials at the Medical University of South Carolina say around 35 percent of people in the Charleston area are in some way immune to COVID-19 though vaccines or a recent recovery from the virus.

Dr. Michael Sweat, Director of the MUSC Center for Global Health, said the goal will be to reach between 65 and 90 percent immunity.

“Herd immunity is not an on, off switch, it’s more like a dimmer switch,” Sweat said. “If we continue to get these vaccination rates up, we are going to get to a level of herd immunity that will dramatically decline this epidemic.

But he says there’s still many variables that could still get in the way.

The first being supply chain backups. MUSC is currently not accepting new appointments until more doses come in and Roper Hospital has 4,400 people on their waitlist for a vaccine.

“We have seen less vaccine,” Oliverio said. “I do know that we have gotten more first doses, so we will be reopening the ability to schedule first doses.”

The next hurdle is keeping ahead of emerging coronavirus variants like the UK and South African strains.

“It’s a race to keep the number of variants, the number of mutations down so that the tools we have now work in the future,” Oliverio said.

Finally, Sweat says the power lies in the peoples’ hands to keep up virus safety measures and sign up for their shot when available.

“But we’re not there yet so people need to realize we can have another wave,” Sweat said. “There’s enough people who haven’t been vaccinated or haven’t been infected or are out in society.”

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