When will the United States reach herd immunity?


The Daily Beast reports that “top members of President Joe Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that the U.S. may not reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter—months later than originally calculated.”

The Washington Post unveiled a neat adjustable chart where you can set the number of vaccinations per day and your preferred percentage of the threshold for “herd immunity,” and it will calculate when the U.S. will have vaccinated enough people to reach herd immunity. If the U.S. continues at its current pace 1.5 million people per day, and we need to reach 80 percent, we will achieve that goal two days after Christmas.

One point worth keeping in mind is that herd immunity is not like a light switch, off one day, on the next. Getting closer to herd immunity will help; as more and more people get vaccinated, the virus will spread less and less. Fewer infections will mean fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths.

And the daily pace of vaccinations should increase, at least a little, in the coming weeks and months. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will be bringing vaccines to big chains such as Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, Kroger, and a bunch of others. But with the Biden team calling the shots, the rollout is still hardly a portrait of efficiency, speed, or clarity. The manufacturers have shipped out about 63 million doses and about 44 million shots have gone into arms — meaning there’s still that 19 million or so dose gap, only a small fraction of which can be explained by delays in reporting.

The Biden administration can claim that the Trump administration botched the initial rollout, and not-so-plausibly argue that the Trump team kept it in the dark about the real state of vaccination program. (The first Biden team briefing on Operation Warp Speed was held November 25; the incoming team was given access to the Tiberius vaccine-tracking program in early January. Biden met with Warp Speed chief scientific adviser Moncef Slaoui in early January and Biden asked for his resignation a week later.) And there are some factors that are just beyond any elected official’s control, such as snowstorms canceling vaccination sessions.

But on the campaign trail, Biden pledged, over and over again, that he had a plan, and that his plan would be dramatically better than what the Trump administration was doing. Biden’s characterization of his predecessor’s vaccination efforts reached absurd hyperbole. Eleven days before vaccinations started, Biden fumed, “There is no detailed plan, that we’ve seen anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container into an injection syringe into somebody’s arm. . . . The cost of actually getting the serum into an injection, into a needle into somebody’s arm costs a lot of money. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of folks to be able to get that done. And we have to have a much better way than we’ve seen thus far as to how it’s distributed.”

Biden turned “I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus” into a slogan, making versions that pledge on October 22, October 26, October 28, October 29, more than once on October 30, November 19, and again in January.  It is hardly unfair that members of the public, having elected Biden and seen him inaugurated last month, expect Biden to start shutting down the virus.

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