Infographic: ‘You’re not going to wipe this thing out by achieving herd immunity.’ Vaccines alone will not contain COVID-19

Credit: Brian McGowan/Unsplash
Credit: Brian McGowan/Unsplash

The coronavirus pandemic in the United States has raged almost uncontrollably for so long that even if millions of people are vaccinated, millions more will still be infected and become ill unless people continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing measures until midsummer or later, according to a new model by scientists at Columbia University.

The arrival of highly effective vaccines in December lifted hopes that they would eventually slow or stop the spread of the disease through the rest of the population. But vaccines alone are not enough, the model shows. And if precautions like working remotely, limiting travel and wearing masks are relaxed too soon, it could mean millions more infections and thousands more deaths.

There is no doubt that getting vaccinated protects the recipient. Still, several infectious-disease researchers contacted by The New York Times cautioned that it would be months before enough people in the United States will have gotten the shots to allow for normal life to begin again.

Only then will the number of people with immunity — those who have had the disease and recovered, plus those who have been vaccinated — be large enough to take the wind out of the pandemic.

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“You’re not going to wipe this thing out by achieving herd immunity; clusters and spikes continue to occur,” [infectious disease expert Dr. David] Engelthaler said.

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