• Medical experts estimate between 70–90 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated before we can reach “herd immunity” in the United States.
  • People who are refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine are increasing their risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.
  • They could also be potentially prolonging the pandemic, contributing to spikes in cases and giving the virus more opportunities to mutate.

As epidemiologists have said from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a vaccine is the only true way to eventually resume much of life as we knew it.

Now, more than a year later, there are several vaccines against COVID-19 circulating rapidly through the U.S. population.

As more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus, research continues to show the shots are safe for people and effective at preventing them from developing severe cases of COVID-19, namely those that end in death.

While access may still be an issue for some, the expected increase in production, as well as distribution by agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard, will make COVID-19 vaccination for many people a reality soon.

“We have a ways to go,” Dr. Jonathan Leizman, chief medical officer at Premise Health, told Healthline.

People are sighing in heavy relief after getting their shots. Even pins and T-shirts are available on popular websites to proudly declare the wearer is fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keep updating its guidelines to let people who are fully vaccinated know that, yes, you can now hang out indoors with fully vaccinated people without social distancing or wearing masks and the risk is very low.

Still, some people are convinced the shots aren’t for them and say they won’t get them when it’s their turn. Although surveys show vaccine hesitancy is going down, it remains a concerning issue.

It’s something federal authorities are attempting to tackle through a new ad campaign.

Fighting misinformation with facts

Vaccine skepticism has been seen in some religious communities, such as in white evangelical Christians. In response, some congregations are combating vaccine hesitancy from their pulpits, and even hosting vaccine clinics in their parking lots.

Some people simply have a fear of needles or are concerned with how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines were developed.

But with more shots going into more arms, Leizman said there’s more real-world data coming in to show the vaccines are safe, effective, free to anyone regardless of health insurance, and that vaccines are the best tool to protect yourself and others.

“Communication and education go a long way,” he said.

Vaccine refusal could eventually make the pandemic worse for everyone

While it largely remains a personal choice, those who are eligible to get the vaccine but chose not to — for whatever reasons — run the risk of not only getting the virus and transmitting it to others, but also of prolonging the pandemic, contributing to spikes in cases, and giving the virus more opportunities to mutate.

Medical experts say we’re currently in a crucial part of the pandemic. We need to get enough people to have antibodies against the coronavirus — whether through vaccination or prior infection — to prevent it from mutating into strains (or variants) that may be more lethal.

That’s a vital point in controlling a viral or bacterial threat known as “herd immunity.”

For COVID-19, experts are estimatingTrusted Source between 70 and 90 percent of the population need to have antibodies to reach “herd immunity.”

However, experts still aren’t sure when we’ll reach that level of protection or exactly how many vaccinations we’ll need to make it happen.

Dr. William Lang estimates it won’t be until mid to lay May before we can reach 75 percent herd immunity, with the current vaccination rates of 3 million shots per day.

Lang is the medical director of WorldClinic and former deputy White House physician and director of the White House medical unit under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

medical director of WorldClinic and former deputy White House physician and director of the White House medical unit under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, estimates it won’t be until mid to late May before we can reach 75 percent herd immunity, with the current vaccination rates of 3 million shots per day.

“The thing is, you don’t know when you hit herd immunity,” he said. “What’s dangerous right now is that it’s clear there’s an expectation of, yeah, we made it.”

But we haven’t.

With an expected fourth wave just ahead, efforts to vaccinate people are going well — but it’s still too early to know if we’ve gained enough ground, or we’re about to lose even more of it.

How will we get enough people to get vaccinated to control the virus?

It’s still unclear where and when people might have to show their vaccination status.

The vaccines currently being used in the United States are authorized by the FDA under “emergency use,” meaning they haven’t met full approval standards.

Experts doubt companies would require employees to do something that doesn’t have full FDA approval.

As Stat News reports, the FDA has never before approved something on an emergency basis for use in the entire population, so there’s some legal gray area about when it can be mandated.

But as more people get the vaccines, widening the base of test subjects, it’s becoming much more likely the FDA will approve the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the three currently being used in the United States.

However, while the U.S. government might not be outright mandating vaccination, some private businesses are demanding proof of vaccination before welcoming patrons to their business.

For example, San Francisco Giants fans will need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to see games in person.

Rutgers University is requiring all students receive COVID-19 vaccines before arriving for classes in the fall, the first in the country. Northeastern University has followed suit.

Norwegian Cruise Lines announced this week that they’ll require all passengers and crew to be vaccinated 2 weeks before ships set sail.

Because they and other private businesses operate on private property, they have the same legal right to make these rules as businesses that refuse to serve people who don’t wear masks, shirts, or shoes.

Still, Lang said without full FDA approval, many places of business think it’s too early to make a policy to require someone to be vaccinated, as it could have some liability issues.

“It’s going to be an individual decision on risk,” Lang said.

Dr. Ray Fabius, president and chief medical officer of HealthNEXT, said businesses will have better luck incentivizing employees to get vaccinated rather than punishing them for not, including awarding bonuses to employees who get their shots.

But places like airlines could soon require vaccination for people to fly, as airplanes are confined spaces you’re in for a long time — a ripe environment for the coronavirus to spread.

Fabius said cruise lines may require vaccination “in their best interest,” and indoor entertainment venues like movie theaters and dance clubs could also require the same.

“At the end of the day, individuals have to decide if something like this would increase confidence,” he said.

Lang said that societies have great interest in keeping the virus’ spread as low as possible to prevent more variants from emerging, but the pandemic and vaccination have turned into political issues, not medical ones.

“We’re so close to where we want to be that we don’t want to move ahead too fast,” Lang said. “This isn’t something that’s going to be over and done.”

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