Why Herd Immunity Is Slipping Away

Achieving widespread resistance to the coronavirus has long been a North Star for exiting the pandemic. Some experts now believe the U.S. may never get there.

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From the earliest days of the pandemic, herd immunity has consistently factored into conversations about how countries can find their way out of lockdowns.

Now, many experts believe that the United States may never reach the requisite level of immunity.

The emergence of more contagious variants of the virus has changed the herd immunity calculation. Whereas it was once thought that 60 or 70 percent of the population needed to be resistant, that number now stands as high as 90 or 95 percent.

And vaccine hesitancy is beginning to bare out in the data, with the rate of immunizations now falling in America.

Can herd immunity ever be achieved, and what might it look like to live in a country where it doesn’t exist?

On today’s episode

Apoorva Mandavilli, a science and global health reporter for The New York Times.

Background reading

Widely circulating coronavirus variants and persistent hesitancy about vaccines will keep the goal out of reach. The virus appears to be here to stay, but vaccinating the most vulnerable may be enough to restore normalcy. Read this article in Spanish here.

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Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting.

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