These numbers clearly show that achieving herd immunity to COVID-19 through infection is not only impossible but would come at a terrible cost to healthcare systems, the economy and our lives. But there is hope.
The goal of vaccines is to stimulate long-lasting immunity without the collateral damage of natural infection. We don’t yet know how long lasting the immunity from the vaccine candidates will be, but if they prove to have a good safety profile, they will represent the only viable way of achieving herd immunity, even if it means yearly vaccination.
Until a vaccine is widely available, we must suppress transmission by limiting contact with non-household members, and wearing masks and distancing when contact with others is unavoidable. These measures work and will limit unnecessary deaths and economic impact while we wait for an effective vaccine.
Brandon Webb, MD, is an infectious diseases specialist at Intermountain Medical Center.