Two barriers that states are facing when it comes to achieving herd immunity are public skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine and new COVID-19 strains. Key reasons as to why there is public skepticism are vaccine safety and effectiveness. Experts fear that a new variant could cause another surge and undo all efforts towards achieving herd immunity.
1. Public Skepticism
- A major barrier states are facing when it comes to achieving herd immunity is public skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine. Hesitance from the public when it comes to taking the vaccine will lead to delays in the vaccine rollout process.
- A study by the University of California, Davis revealed that vaccine uptake is going to be suboptimal once COVID-19 vaccines are available.
- According to the study, more than a third of Americans in the US are either hesitant or unlikely to get a vaccine even if they have access to it. Respondents cited vaccine effectiveness and safety as the main reasons for hesitancy. Concerns for vaccine effectiveness could be exacerbated by the rush to release COVID-19 vaccines to the market.
- Other reasons include concerns about side effects, allergic responses, and opting to develop immunity through infection.
- Reasons that were less cited in the study include immunity from past infection, fear of needles, being healthy, and being young and unconcerned about developing a serious illness.
- A study by McKinsey & Company revealed that Black Americans are 1.6 times more unlikely to receive the vaccine compared to Caucasians. About 50% of Black people feel that their needs are not being taken into account during vaccine development.
- To address this barrier, states are conducting public education campaigns. In October 2020, the Washington State Department of Health started conductive interviews and holding focus groups to understand the concerns of state residents and answer questions.
- Another case in point is the #VaccinateNY campaign launched by Governor Andrew Cuomo whose main aim is to build trust in the vaccine and help generate enthusiasm.
2. New Strains
- New strains of the coronavirus continue to appear. A new strain from the UK seems to be more infectious and has spread into the US.
- The B117 variant is spreading rapidly in the US and the infection rates keep doubling every 10 days.
- According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 45 states have reported B117 cases. Kansas recently identified its first case of the B117 variant.
- The CDC also noted that the new transmissible variant could become the dominant strain resulting in a new surge of cases.
- Dr. Celine Gounder, who is in the Biden-Harris Transition Covid Advisory Board, has noted that the virus mutations can escape the immune response be it from the vaccine or natural. According to the member of the board, the promising vaccine data should not be a reason for people to relax social distancing measures.
- “Hypervirulent COVID variants have exacerbated the difficulty of reaching herd immunity.” As governors ease lockdown restrictions as a result of vaccinations picking up pace, experts fear that the contagious variants could reverse all the progress that has been made.
- As it stands, scientists are not aware how widespread the variants can be and the Biden administration and other states have promised to speed up testing efforts.
- Currently, there are a lot of unknowns about the variants. As such, states are requesting the public to be vigilant and maintain preventive measures.
- According to the New Mexico Department of Health spokesman, Matt Beiber, the state is engaging in public health messaging that stresses on COVID-safe practices, such as social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing.