Dr. Anthony Fauci, our most trusted health communicator for good reason, was right when he told a beleaguered nation more than a year ago that “the showstopper will ultimately be a vaccine.” It is, and will be, but only if we vaccinate most of the population.
What Dr. Fauci said to the New York Times this week, in a front-page article with the grim headline “Herd Immunity’ Dims with Pace of Vaccinations” (online it was an even grimmer “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe”) was more nuanced, perhaps too nuanced.
“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” he said. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense… I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.” That makes perfect sense. But perhaps we should think twice before abandoning the idea of “herd immunity.” The idea has served the public health community well for almost a century.