By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) – Herd immunity to the new coronavirus may require vaccination rates of up to 90%, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most prominent American expert on infectious diseases, in an interview published Thursday in The New York Times.
More than 1 million Americans have received a first dose of a vaccine since December 14, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, or only about 0.3% of the population.
Fauci, who advises both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden on the pandemic, acknowledged that he had increased his estimates from earlier in the year, as he tended to say only that 60-70% should be vaccinated for crew immunity should reached.
“We must have humility here,” Fauci told The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/health/herd-immunity-covid-coronavirus.html. “We really do not know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 and 90 percent. But I do not want to say 90 percent.”
His comments came as the country marks grim new daily milestones as it battles the world’s deadly eruption: it reported more than 3,000 deaths for the second day in a row on Wednesday. The U.S. death toll reached 326,333 at midnight Wednesday, according to Reuters data.
On the same day, more Americans flew than any other day since the March pandemic, with 1,191,123 passengers passing through airport checkpoints, according to data from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
The data suggested that many ignored the advice of public health experts to avoid traveling to celebrate Christmas Day on Friday. Fauci and other experts say social distance will be required deep into 2021 as vaccines slowly roll out.
The number of travelers dropped from 2019, when 1,937,235 flew on December 23rd. Wednesday’s traffic exceeded the previous height of the pandemic set on November 29, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, when 1,176,091 people passed TSA checkpoints ahead of new increases in coronavirus cases in many states.
Health workers, elderly nursing homes, elected officials and firefighters are among those who get the vaccines first. Most Americans have been told that it can take six months or more before they are eligible for the shots.
Fauci, who was named director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984, said in the interview that he had become more willing to reveal his beliefs as polls show Americans became somewhat less skeptical of the new vaccines. The more contagious a disease is, the higher the vaccination rate required to reach a threshold for herd immunity where its spread is contained.
“When polls said only half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I said herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” Fauci, who turned 80 on Thursday, told the Times.
“Then when recent research said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can push this up a little bit,’ so I went to 80, 85. ‘”