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Published on December 18, 2020

herd immunity

Is what you heard about herd immunity correct?

The COVID-19 vaccine is our strongest weapon in the battle against the virus but its arrival reignited discussions about how we achieve herd immunity.

Gundersen experts weigh in.

What is herd immunity?

We attain herd immunity when most of our population reaches immunity and disease rates are so low that even those who are not immune are protected.

It is only through vaccination that we achieve enough herd immunity that we eliminate an infectious disease, like smallpox. Without immunizations, infections go through cycles called epidemics in which there are a high number of infections. 

Can infection bring us closer to herd immunity?  

Experts don't know how long immunity lasts from natural infection. We do know that people can contract COVID-19 more than once, and we believe that those with no or minimal symptoms may not have long-lasting immunity. Even with infections that have long-lasting immunity like chicken pox, we did not achieve herd immunity until we had a vaccine. 

OK, so how do we achieve herd immunity from COVID-19? What will it take from all of us?

We're still learning how to control this virus. Best-case scenario, immunity from the vaccine will be highly effective (and the first two are 95 percent effective), long-lasting (we don't know yet) and widely accepted (that's where you come in). We need most of the world's population to be vaccinated to achieve true herd immunity or even think about approaching eradication. A more likely outcome is that we will be able to control the virus enough that it will result in smaller outbreaks or epidemics so that the impact on people's lives is minimal. If we want to get back to normal, we all have a role to play by wearing masks, distancing, washing our hands and getting vaccinated when it's our turn!

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