This is a rather sobering story, although it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already sort of know:
Early in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives.
Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.
Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.
How much smaller is uncertain and depends in part on how much of the nation, and the world, becomes vaccinated and how the coronavirus evolves. It is already clear, however, that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.
Continued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency, experts believe.
“The virus is unlikely to go away,” said Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”
The shift in outlook presents a new challenge for public health authorities. The drive for herd immunity — by the summer, some experts once thought possible — captured the imagination of large segments of the public. To say the goal will not be attained adds another “why bother” to the list of reasons that vaccine skeptics use to avoid being inoculated.
Yet vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat, experts said.
What combination of carrots and sticks is necessary to sway vaccine resisters is an interesting question that has a no doubt complex answer, but I’ll note that as of now we’ve done basically nothing as a nation to make resisters pay any cost for whatever combination of stupidity and selfishness is driving their resistance.
By the way I growing a bit tired of trying to understand and empathize with the people in this diner, who cling to various idiotic belief systems that create minor inconveniences for the rest of us, like resurgent fascism and ongoing plagues.
Anyhow, the vaccines work, most people will get them, and life in America will get back to something pretty closely resembling normal by mid-summer, to the extent it already hasn’t. Meanwhile other places are suffering ongoing COVID catastrophes that will require much more attention and help from us than they’ve gotten to this point.