Story at a glance

  • COVID-19 is unlikely to be eradicated immediately, thanks to relatively low vaccination rates.
  • Measles, smallpox and polio all have vaccines which are highly effective and commonly used.
  • "We don’t seem to be prepared to do it and take the collective action that it’s going to require,” Gottlieb said.

With more American demographics eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, hopeful discussions of herd immunity and eventual eradication of the virus have reentered the public discourse. 

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director Scott Gottlieb clarified on CNBC that eradication — or the elimination of the virus due to widespread immunity — is not likely for several reasons.

“We eradicate things where we have very high vaccination rates, and where the vaccine is a one-and-done vaccine where it’s fully protective for a long duration and for life,” he explained, citing vaccines for measles, smallpox and polio as successful examples. 

In regards to COVID-19, however, pervasive vaccine hesitancy is one of the components hindering the possibility of eradication. 

Additionally, vaccine shots for children, providing long-term immunity, are not yet available.


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“That doesn’t create the setup for eradicating this virus,” Gottlieb adds. “That creates a setup where we can get this virus to low levels. But you’re still going to have pockets of spread.”

For the U.S. to reduce the COVID-19 spread low enough to be nearly eradicated, Gottlieb says the country would need to make different decisions as a society. 

“It’s possible,” he conceded. “We don’t seem to be prepared to do it and take the collective action that it’s going to require. And it will require people exercising some serious virtue to get vaccinated even if they individually feel they’re at low risk of the infection.”

Pharmaceutical companies who have developed vaccines for COVID-19, including Pfizer and Moderna, have recently said that booster shots to support immune responses to more contagious COVID-19 variants will likely be needed in the foreseeable future.

Another drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, recently paused the usage of its vaccine as reports of blood clots among patients have emerged.

While eradication may not be immediately likely, control of the virus can be. Experts like Gottlieb anticipate COVID-19 to be treated like influenza.

“It’s hard to predict what things are going to look like seven years from now, 10 years from now with Covid and how much this infection is reduced societally, but at least for the foreseeable future, you could see this being an annualized ... vaccination” he concluded.


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Published on Apr 16, 2021