If you’ve paid close attention to scientists over the past year, you have likely heard a recurring statement: “The best way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is by achieving herd immunity.” 

What is herd immunity, and does it truly offer the hope we seek for coming out on the other side of this pandemic? Read on to learn more about this concept – and if we stand a chance of achieving it!

What Is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity is a phenomenon that occurs when a large enough percentage of the population – known as “the herd” – has become vaccinated against an infectious disease such that there are not enough susceptible hosts to sustain the spread of the disease. This is considered protective or immunity.

How Is Herd Immunity Achieved?

To achieve herd immunity, two things must occur:

  1. A majority of the population contracts, survives, and develops antibody protection against the strain of the virus.
  2. Enough individuals are vaccinated against the virus.

Once enough individuals in a “herd” fall under one of the two categories above, a population may achieve herd immunity. This means that the epidemic can no longer spread and will die out.

Can We Reach Herd Immunity?

The short answer is yes, but it will require a lot of hard work to achieve! Vaccines play an integral role in helping us reach herd immunity. If at least 75% to 95% of the population can be vaccinated against the virus, we stand an excellent chance of preventing and even stopping this pandemic completely.

What About Virus Variants/Mutants?

As with any virus, it is always possible to mutate to a point in which vaccines would not be effective against a particular strain. Think of how they are continually creating new flu vaccines every year. 

Fortunately, thanks to the way our bodies respond after we’ve contracted a disease or been vaccinated for one, such mutation cannot be permanent. 

As a result, the good news is that even if a virus mutates beyond our control and we lose the capability to vaccinate against it, herd immunity will kick in once enough vulnerable hosts have died or recovered from the strain – and thus, no new outbreaks of that variant are possible.

The best choice you can make is to get vaccinated. To learn more about receiving a vaccination near you, contact your local health department.