‘I think we have the tools to control this’: Washington on track to herd immunity, but still a ways to go

SPOKANE, Wash. — Immunity to COVID-19 is increasing in Washington, but not fast enough to slow the transmission of the virus.

Nearly 30% of people in Washington are immune, either through past infection or getting fully vaccinated.

To get back to a somewhat normal lifestyle, to get to herd immunity, we still have a ways to go.

Herd immunity doesn’t happen immediately and it doesn’t necessarily signal that the pandemic is over.

It just means enough people are protected from the virus so that it no longer circulates.

“Let’s say you’ve got a population of about a 100 people, 99 have been vaccinated or recovered from a given infection or are immune to it, that one person is protected, basically because the other 99 are,” said Regent Professor of Pathology & Infectious Disease at Washington State University Guy Palmer.

According to the Department of Health, at the beginning of April, Washington had a 26.8% population immunity from the coronavirus.

About 15% from people getting vaccinated and 11% from previous infections.

So we’re on the right track — mostly from vaccinations.

Some states are reaching herd immunity faster, but it’s through more people getting the virus.

And as we know, not everyone survives.

“Think of it as a dimmer switch, not an on-off switch,” said Palmer. “It’s gonna slowly dim down so we’re seeing less and less transmission.”

Chief Strategy Officer of Population Health at the University of Washington Ali Mokdad says both vaccine hesitancy and vaccine procrastination present a problem.

“We will not reach herd immunity by winter because right now, about 70% of the population is eligible to get the vaccine and in that 70%, we have about 30 % who are saying, ‘I will not take the vaccine.’,” said Mokdad.

Especially when we’re up against new variants of the virus.

That’s why companies like Pfizer are working on a booster vaccine, so that once the majority of us are immune — we stay that way.

“I think we have the tools to control this,” said Palmer. “It’s a great place where we are today versus where we were a year ago because we have the tools to end the pandemic and get back to, I think, what we’re all looking for — a more socially-engaged lifestyle.”

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