The Trouble With Herd Immunity And Covid-19 Vaccines

Now that an independent advisory panel has voted in favor of approving Pfizer’s two-dose Covid-19 vaccine, it likely won’t be long before the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clears it for emergency use. Within 24 hours of their decision, millions of doses will be en route to health workers and long-term care residents across the country, beginning a mass vaccination campaign that many hope will end in herd immunity.

A vaccine will make a critical addition to our defenses against Covid-19—this much is certain. But our ability to achieve vaccination-induced herd immunity is less so. While that shouldn’t stop us from trying, it also shouldn’t stop us from practicing and promoting safety guidelines that can actually contain the disease. If Covid-19 is a raging forest fire, and a vaccine the firefighter dispatched to quell it, tried-and-true prevention measures—social distancing, mask wearing, and rapid testing among them—are how we protect ourselves until the trucks come rolling in.

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Originally published on Forbes (December 11, 2020)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.