Top US Health Official Not Sure Herd Immunity Will Be Reached in Coming Months

March 29, 2021 Updated: March 29, 2021

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has said he’s unsure whether herd immunity will be reached in the United States in the coming months.

In an interview with The Hill, Collins said that achieving herd immunity will depend on whether people who are hesitant to receive the vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, can be convinced by “trustworthy voices.”

“I don’t know. It’s not a slam dunk, considering what the polls tell you about resistance,” Collins said, noting that the next couple of months will be key in attempting to “turn around” the doubts that some people have with the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use in the United States so far—Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

“This is going to be a really critical, couple of months of watching closely to see if some of those trends can be turned around by appropriate messages from trustworthy people,” he said.

Herd immunity occurs when a large enough portion of the population acquires immunity from an infectious disease—either naturally from prior infection or temporarily through vaccination—that it no longer spreads widely.

But in October 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) silently changed the concept of herd immunity to only include acquired immunity from vaccination.

“‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity’, is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached,” the WHO said.

Then on Dec. 31, the WHO added naturally acquired immunity from a previous infection back into its definition of herd immunity, and stressed that the health organization “supports achieving ‘herd immunity’ through vaccination.”

Experts still do not know what percentage of the population needs to be immune to achieve herd immunity. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top medical adviser to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, has estimated that at least 70 percent of Americans need COVID-19 vaccines before herd immunity will be reached.

The president has made it his goal to see 200 million COVID-19 shots administered to those who want the vaccine by the end of his first 100 days in office—double his original goal. As of March 25, the United States has administered 133.3 million COVID-19 shots.

Two of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines require two doses; the other, Johnson & Johnson’s, is a single shot.

Collins told The Hill said that “trustworthy voices” must work to clear doubts that some may have with the vaccines, for example, concerns over the speed at which they have been developed.

“This concern about them having been rushed can be answered by pointing out how the speed was achieved, which was by basically getting rid of the downtimes that traditionally occur when a vaccine is being developed and results in it taking year,” he noted.

“There was no shortcut taken with any of the rigorous steps, and to evaluate these vaccines. The shortcuts were to get rid of the downtime, the bureaucracy, the red tape, the need to go back and try to raise more funds when you ran out.

“All of that was planned in advance, realizing that this really was a global pandemic and people were dying. So, to reassure people that the speed of preparation should not be seen as a cause of concern about its safety, that’s certainly one message,” Collins said.

The NIH director a few days earlier told Fox News that he believes hesitancy with the vaccines could “cause this pandemic to go on much longer than it needs to.”

Meiling Lee contributed to this report.