What is Herd Immunity?

How Will We Achieve It?

Author: Floyd Else, MA, LMHC (ret.), NCC, MAC

Posted on May 13, 2022


“Herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely." The elimination of the weak--achieved by the death the elderly and others who have compromised immunity due to other health problems—is one way to protect the entire community, even those who are not themselves immune. While vaccination is a more gentle way, "herd immunity can also occur through natural infection.”  (Charles Darwin called it "natural selection", or "survival of the fittest.")

But, we do not yet have a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.  Even when we have a new, safe, effective vaccine it may take years to reach the 90 percent vaccinated level needed to achieve herd immunity.

Some of our political leaders—governors, mayors, county executives, (usually Democrats), recommend precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by social distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing, etc. This doesn’t completely stop infection, but helps to lower the rate of infections and avoid overwhelming medical personnel and facilities, while giving us more time to develop a vaccine.

Other political leaders (usually Republican) minimize the risk, saying, "It is no worse than the flu."  (This Ignores CDC estimates that even with a flu vaccine--during the 2018–2019 influenza season—the flu caused more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths nationwide).  Other leaders, with a similar message are saying, "Let’s just wait it out until we develop herd immunity."

With no vaccine, should the goal of developing herd immunity be of concern members of the general public?  Should we opt for natural infection and natural selection?  Should we attend crowded bars and restaurants?  Should we risk our lives to help the economy recover and achieve Herd Immunity more quickly? 

The Seattle Times reported as of September 25, 2020, COVID-19 in Washington State, of a total of 85,830 confirmed cases,  and 2,100 Deaths. Deaths by age: 2% were between the ages of 20 to 39, 9% between the ages of 40-59 years old.

The chances that an infection with the virus will kill you increases with age and other medical conditions you may have. 

38% of those who have died are ages 60 to 79, and 51% of the total deaths were persons over the age of 80. So, 89% of deaths are to people between 60 to 80+ years old. 

There are many ways to personalize this: For young parents, reaching  herd immunity could mean no longer expecting your parents or grandparents to be available for babysitting—because they are already dead or dying, or they are alive and socially isolating even from grandchildren who at any time might become asymptomatic carriers of the virus.  The whole concept is scary and unpleasant to think about.

Because of the large number of elderly voters who vote conservative, I can give no credence to the crazy conspiracy theory that Republicans—who need your vote--are out to kill you, although that appears to be an accidental outcome of their policies.  

Rather, I think their striving for herd immunity is a natural outcome of their conservative beliefs in rugged individualism, and protecting individual rights which leads them to permit or to encourage activities that are fun and perhaps ill-advised, without regard for their health and well-being or the health of anyone else in the community, including you!

And from another point of view, the CDC has estimated that so far only about 3 to 4 percent of the population has been infected by the coronavirus.  This means as many as 96% of us are still “coronavirus virgins.”  And many, including me, prefer to keep it that way as long as possible.

For me, at the ripe old age of 83, with other medical concerns, my personal approach to Herd Immunity is a matter of survival, not politics.  I chose “not to die” if I can avoid it; will get my other vaccinations (the flu and pneumonia still out there killing people), practice social distancing, wear a mask in public places, eat right, exercise, wash my hands frequently, get enough rest, and pray for God’s mercy.

And when the FDA approves a vaccine, I will get one as soon as it is available to me.  Until then, I welcome the help and support of my thoughtful, considerate, fellow citizens who chose to avoid infecting the rest of us.

Be careful, stay well, and stay least 6 feet!

Floyd Else, 83, Webmaster, is a retired mental health counselor and substance abuse counselor who lives in Bellevue, Washington.

PS: Just as I feared, it's killing Republicans. 
One week after the presidential election and US is experiencing 100,000 new COVID-19 cases each day and the Associated Press reports, “Voters in 93 percent of the 376 counties with the highest per capita number of coronavirus cases overwhelmingly went for Trump.  Most of the counties were rural—in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Wisconsin.” Reported in THE WEEK, Nov. 20, 2020.

 On vaccination, “the partisan gap is astonishing,” said William Galston in the The Wall Street Journal.  More than 80 percent of Democrats have gotten at least one shot, but only 49 percent of Republicans have—and nearly a third categorically refuse to. Biden won the 20 most vaccinated states but only three of the 20 least vaccinated.  The “Regrettable trend” of politicizing everything has turned a badly needed vaccine into an ideological marker.    THE WEEK Magazine


“The U.S. death toll from COVID-19  topped  600,000 on Tuesday (June 15th), even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer...”  (Seattle Times news services June 16, 2021.)

Vaccine rule - Federal Workers - July 2021

The rapidly spreading delta variant is forcing the administration to move quickly to adjust its response to a pandemic that has already killed more than 600,000 Americans and is once again surging in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low.
“This is (now) a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Mr. Biden said, calling it an “American tragedy” and talking directly to the 90 million Americans who are eligible for a vaccine but have not gotten one. “People are dying and will die who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die...”

“If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated,” the president said bluntly.

Mr. Biden urged companies and local governments to mimic his new vaccine requirements for federal employees, which he noted had the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The group said on Thursday that the president’s new rules were “prudent steps to protect public health...”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a polio survivor, encouraged people to get the vaccine. With the virus on the rise in conservative swaths of the country, Mr. McConnell is among a handful of Republican leaders who are now explicitly calling for vaccination.

“Honestly, it never occurred to me we’d have difficulty getting people to take the vaccine,” he said.

By Michael D. Shear, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Annie Karni -- in the New York Times, July 29, 2021.


On Friday Oct. 1, 2021, the United States Crossed the threshold of 700,00 deaths from COVID-19.
Wilson Ring, The Associated Press 


In U.S. counties where Donald Trump won at least 70% of the vote in the 2020 eletion, Covid-19 has killed about 47 out of every 100,00 people since the end of June. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the Covid death rate is about 10 out of 100,000.
The New York Times, quoted in THE WEEK magazine, Oct 8,2021


Covid-19 is now the leading cause of death for police officers in the U.S. Some 420 have died from the disease since January 2020, compared with 92 who died from gunfire, the second leading cause.
The Wall Street Journal, quoted in THE WEEK magazine, Oct 8,2021


January 2022
     “An estimated 163,000 Covid deaths in the U.S. over the past year could have been prevented by vaccination, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Some 28 percent of U.S. Adults remain unvaccinated, and some health officials expect that the death toll will rise in coming months from 805,000 to more than 1 million.”
THE WEEK magazine, Jan.2022


“British doctor treating men who’ve had Covid reported that the virus sometimes damages blood vessels in the penis, causes impotence and a permanent reduction in its size.”
THE WEEK magazine, Jan 21, 2022


With more than 882,000 deaths, the United States has the largest COVID-19
toll of any nation.

In the United States, 550,000 people 65 and older—the main group for Medicare—have died of COVID-19, the main age group for Medicare—have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.  They account for two thirds of the coronavirus
even though that age group represents 16.5% of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  People 65 and older are hospitalized with COVID-19 at nearly three times the national average rate, CDC data show.
Associated Press, Jan 28, 2022


As I feared, goodbye to mom, dad, grandma, and granddad
A new study estimates that at least 5.2 million children around the world lost a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19 in the first 19 months of the pandemic...
“It took 10 years for the 5 million children to be orphaned by HIV-/AIDS, whereas the same number of children have been orphaned by COVID-19 IN JUST TWO YEARS,” said Lorraine Sherr, and author of the study.     
The New York Times, Feb 2022.


Feb. 5, 2022: Propelled in part by the wildly contagious omicron variant, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has hit 900,000, less than two months after eclipsing 800,000.

The number of people who died from COVID in the U.S. now exceeds the population of Indianapolis, San Francisco or Charlotte, North Carolina, AP notes.

“It is an astronomically high number. If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

President Joe Biden again urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. “Two hundred and fifty million Americans have stepped up to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting at least one shot — and we have saved more than one million American lives as a result,”

Nor is COVID-19 finished with the United States: the U.S. could reach 1 million deaths by April.


Masks: Is America Done with Covid mandates?

“Have we not learned anything from the past two years?” Said Dr. Arnold Barnett in the Hill.
This isn’t the first time we thought we were done with Covid—only to be hit by another debilitating
surge.  “Vaccine effectiveness is waning,” And a new Omicron sub-variant known as BA.2 has caused new cases to jump 70 percent since the end of March.  We also need to consider the debilitating risks of long Covid, which can follow even mild infections, and the possible emergence of a new, more dangerous variant.  Besides, planes aren’t as safe as some might contend; peer-reviewed studies have shown infected passengers transmitting Covid to 15 people on one flight and 14 on another.  But in our collective pandemic fatigue, said Kent Sepkowitz in, people are “embracing the magical thinking that, by ignoring the virus, it will go away”It won’t but we need to be realistic, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times...”At this stage of the pandemic, it makes more sense to encourage people who fear Covid to voluntarily wear N95 masks; experts say one-way masking works.  Whether we like it or not, there is strong growing resistance to mask mandates, and “the best responses to health crises depend on triage.”  Public officials should give priority to Covid precautions that people will accept and follow, rather than trying to enforce the unenforceable.   THE WEEK, May 6, 2022.

Webmaster comment: Herd-Immunity still eludes us.


"Last fall I wrote about how people not getting vaccinated meant the medical system in Washington had borne up to an estimated $850 million in unnecessary hospitalization costs.

COVID hospitalizations have more than doubled since then — with three-fourths of them unvaccinated (who, again, make up only a sixth of the state’s population). So now we’re up to more than $2.2 billion in hospital costs that could have been prevented with the jab...

"I’m revisiting all this now because the COVID reality is only going to get murkier, as vaccine immunity wanes and the virus morphs. For example, the pandemic is supposedly over, and yet, right now, King County is having its second biggest outbreak of the entire two-year period, at more than 1,000 new cases per day..."

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnist, 5/12/2022


An Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster may be available in a few weeks, assuming federal agencies sign off on the new shot.

The booster has been widely expected for months, especially since the latest dominant Omicron subvariant, BA.5, “looks really different in lots and lots of ways from the original strain that we built the vaccines against,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said this week in a forum with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“The good news is, our vaccines are still doing a remarkable job of keeping people out of the hospital, particularly out of the ICU and worse,” Jha said. “But the impact on these vaccines on preventing infection has declined over time because of this evolution” of the Omicron strain.

The new booster “should be arriving in the next few weeks,” Jha said. They “will become available by early to mid-September,” if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize the shots.

By Rong-Gong Lin II, los Angeles Times


Editor’s Letter about Covid

 “The pandemic is over isn’t it?

“Sorry but it isn’t.  Covid deaths and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically, thanks to the immunity produced by hundreds of millions of vaccinations and tens of millions of Covid infections over the past year.  But immunity from infections and shots wanes after four to six months, and every winter, indoor gatherings fuel surges of infectious disease. 

“A new swam of subvariants has evolved to evade immunity, and are spreading rapidly; hospitals in the U.K., Europe, and Singapore are filling up with Covid Cases.

“One of the new subvariants, BQ.1, already makes up 10 percent of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.  A substantial portion of the millions who may be infected in coming months may develop long Covid—especially those who are unvaccinated or get Covid multiple times....”

“Fortunately, the new “bivalent/ booster will help shield people from serious illness, death and long Covid.  But so far, only about 7 percent of 209 million eligible Americans have gotten the new booster, out of Covid fatigue, tribal loyalty, or not knowing it’s available. 

“Don’t roll the Covid dice.  Go get a booster.”

William Falk, Editor-in-chief, THE WEEK, October 28, 2022. (emphasis added.)

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