“Herd immunity” has become among the most discussed parts of the spread of COVID-19 around America. Is it any wonder? It describes a time when the disease is much less deadly because enough people have been infected, or have received vaccines.
The toll of the disease will be terrible, whenever herd immunity comes. More than 500,000 American have died. Fortunately, that figure currently rises by about 2,000 a day. The figure was closer to 4,000 a day just weeks ago. However the 500,000 figure remains about 20% of the world total. Confirmed cases in the U.S. have topped 28 million, about 25% of the world total. And, many scientists believe that is low by tens of millions, because of undiagnosed cases.
Hospitalizations have dropped as well, down from over 100,000 people nationwide. ICUs beds had started to overflow, even in large cities like Los Angeles.
The path to herd immunity is to a large extent a race of the rate at which the adult population is vaccinated against fast spreading variants of the disease. The vaccination rate of U.S. adults is still below 15%, and in some states, much lower. Adults who have received two shots on a nationwide basis are under 6%. President Biden says the federal government has contracts to add 200 million doses by the end of July.
However, variants have emerged from the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil. At least one spreads faster than the version that has been dominant in the U.S. for over a year. And, it is not entirely clear that current vaccines protect well against all three of these. The good news is that at least three new vaccines may be added to the two currently approved in the U.S.