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When could covid-19 herd immunity be reached in the US according to Fauci?

The BioNTech vaccine is already being administered and Joe Biden's chief medical advisor is optimistic about the prospect of returning to normality next year, as long as Americans are willing to be vaccinated.

When could covid-19 herd immunity be reached in the US according to Fauci?
ERIC BARADAT AFP

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and head of the Coronavirus Task Force, has revealed that he believes the United States could see evidence of herd immunity as early as spring 2021.

Fauci told an interview with NPR earlier this week that widespread inoculation was crucial to turning the tide on the pandemic. Coronavirus vaccinations in the US began on Monday and health officials are now tasked with getting the life-saving shots to Americans as quickly as possible.

For now the vaccinations are limited to high-risk patients (care home residents and healthcare workers) but Fauci said that the vaccine could be made widely available by late March or early April. He said, "Once we get there, if in the subsequent months, April, May, June, July, we get as many people vaccinated as possible, we could really turn this thing around before we get towards the end of the year.”

Fauci calls vaccine news “bittersweet”

President-elect Joe Biden has already announced that he intends to name Dr Anthony Fauci as his chief medical advisor when he takes office on 20 January 2021. During the pandemic Fauci has become a trusted public authority and was shortlisted, alongside all front line healthcare workers, for TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year.

However with over 300,000 Americans having now died due to covid-19 he is far from jubilant about the prospect of achieving herd immunity in the coming months. When asked about his thoughts on a potential end to the pandemic coming into sight he replied:

“But still, at the same time, on the same day, you mentioned the terrible landmark of now 300,000 Americans have died, and we have still a raging outbreak that we need to get under control.”

Concern that some may refuse to receive the vaccine

The pharmaceutical break-through is the first real cause for optimism since the pandemic first took hold in spring this year but this is only half of the battle. The vaccine also needs to be effectively distributed to the majority of Americans for it to be truly successful, and Fauci is worried about the number of people who have expressed doubt about the vaccine. 

He told NPR: "I am really concerned about that, and that's the reason why I'm spending a considerable amount of time outreaching throughout the country” he said. “The speed is really a reflection of the scientific advances that have allowed us to do things in a matter of months that would have formerly taken years.”

He added that the BioNTech vaccine currently approved for use is “extraordinarily efficacious. Ratio is 94% to 95% efficacious in preventing clinical disease. It would be terrible, with a tool as good as that, if people don't utilize that tool.”

Stimulus checks in return for vaccination?

Widespread vaccination is the only way for society to return to pre-coronavirus conditions and be free of the social distancing precautions that have been required for much of the year. However experts suggest that over 50% of the population needs to receive the shot before the benefits are really felt nationwide, and it would take 75% vaccination rate for the country to reach heard immunity.

To help encourage people to receive the vaccination one former congressman has suggested offering a financial incentive. John Delaney, former Democratic Representative for Maryland, has called for vaccinations to be rewarded with a $1,500 stimulus check. He told CNBC: “The faster we get 75 percent of this country vaccinated, the faster we end covid and the sooner everything returns to normal.”

Stimulus checks are one of the main contentious issues of the economic relief bill negotiations that are ongoing in Congress at the moment. It remains unclear if lawmakers will be able to pass another round of direct financial support before Christmas. It may be an unpopular move with some, but tying the one-off payments to vaccination uptake would certainly help the US reach herd immunity more quickly.