SAN FRANCISCO – It may not take true “crew immunity” to see a dramatic drop in COVID-19 cases. Some researchers say that an additional 30 to 40 million first shots may be enough for the United States to reach a tipping point and containment of the disease caused by coronavirus.
“It’s just another 10% to 15% more people,” said Dr. Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
So far, 44% of the U.S. population has received at least one shot, and 31% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A turning point comes when enough people are vaccinated that COVID-1
“When you’re 50% or so, you have a significant downward pressure on cases. Half the people who are potentially exposed to the virus can no longer get it. That’s a very big thing,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Topol pointed to California, which has so far vaccinated 50% of its residents, as the poster child for whom levels of vaccination can mean only slightly higher. The state’s 7-day average rate is only 4.3 cases per. 100,000 people. It is down from 5.5 per. 100,000 a month ago and 9.6 cases per. 100,000 for the last week of February.
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“We see the first hint of this here,” he said. “It is the largest state (by population) and it has never looked so good since basic day 1 of the pandemic.”
In San Francisco, where 72% of the population aged 16 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, only six people died of COVID-19 throughout the month of April. It is in a county of 882,000.
“These numbers are dropping dramatically, down five times in terms of deaths,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
He attributes it to the city’s focus on public health measures to reduce transmission and community-based vaccination campaigns.
“We have built an ‘every door is the right door’ approach to vaccination,” Colfax said.
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While cases are rising in some states, they are falling nationwide. Perhaps most importantly, they fall like a stone in heavily vaccinated age groups. Among Americans age 65 and older, who are most vulnerable to the disease, two-thirds are fully vaccinated.
They were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated, a CDC report shows last week.
These trends continue to work their way down the population as more people are vaccinated, said Commissioner Michael Pieciak, of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, the state’s director of state COVID modeling and data. Vermont has the country’s third highest vaccination rate of 56%.
“COVID rates have dropped by 60% during the month of April,” said Pieciak, even among younger, less vaccinated people.
While better weather allows for more outdoor activities may be a factor, he believes vaccination has played an important role.
“We basically came close to that 50% mark in mid-April,” Pieciak said. Although the (younger) group is not yet well covered, the rest of the Vermont population had good coverage and it had an effect. “
The United Kingdom reached its turning point when approx. 50% of its residents received their first dose, said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco. Cases have fallen by 10% and deaths fell by 31% in the last week.
In Israel, which with 60% has one of the world’s highest vaccination levels, COVID-19 cases are down to less than 1 person out of 100,000.
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Gandhi is working on disease models that project COVID-19 cases in the US could drop to 10,000 a day on May 29 or even faster. Currently, the nation sees 48,000 cases a day – for the first time since October, the daily number has fallen below 50,000 and 17% lower than the week before.
Getting another 30 to 40 million Americans vaccinated will take community-based approaches, positive motivation for vaccination and plenty of education, but Gandhi believes it is possible.
“I’m almost certain we can get 60% of adults to accept vaccination – at which point inclusion seems to be sealed,” she said.
Topol added: “It does not really matter who is vaccinated. We just need to find another 40 million people to do it. ”
However, not everyone is convinced of the number of necessary vaccinations is quite low.
Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and a specialist in infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, believes bringing COVID-19 under control closer to 80% of the population should have immunity.
Between vaccinations and natural immunity to past infections, he puts the United States at about 50% population immunity right now.
He attributes the current decline in cases nationwide to a combination of vaccination, immunity through infection and a natural weakening of the virus during the spring and summer.
“COVID-19 is a winter virus,” Offit said.
If his numbers are right, the nation still needs a large portion of the population to roll up their sleeves.
“You have to vaccinate another 100 million people before next winter hits,” he said.
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Israel sees success with lower overall vaccination levels because Israelis behave differently, Offit said.
“They have vaccine passports so you can go into a place where you know other people have been vaccinated. They think like a society, but we think like a group of individuals, ”he said.
Others point out that reaching a turning point where cases fall dramatically is not the same as gaining herd immunity, giving a population broad protection against disease. Crew immunity to COVID-19 is estimated to require somewhere between 80% and 90% of the people protected either through vaccination or previous infection.
“My feeling is that there are many places that will have lots of vaccination and there will be other places where political or many other reasons choose not to be vaccinated. So while the total number will definitely fall, I am worried for the flare-up, “said Barry Bloom, an immunologist and global health expert at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
In Westchester County, New York, where 52% of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down, says Dr. Dial Hewlett, medical director of the county’s Department of Disease Control.
He worries when COVID-19 prices fall and the unvaccinated will feel less pressure to sign up for a shot.
“It’s like when you have a big forest fire and you are able to accommodate almost the entire fire, but there are smoldering embers that can flare up,” he said. “We do not want to let our guard fail and become complacent.”
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