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Health expert pushes back on Texas governor's herd immunity claim

A leading public health expert is swatting down a claim from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that his state will soon reach herd immunity from the coronavirus. 

“We absolutely are not declaring victory at this time. We remain very vigilant and guarded and proactive in our response, but there is simple math behind the reason why still we continue to have success,” Abbott said on "Fox News Sunday," adding later that "very simply, it’s a whole lot more difficult for COVID-19 to be spreading to other people in the state of Texas.”

“I don’t know what herd immunity is, but when you add that to the people who have immunity, it looks like it could be very close to herd immunity,” Abbott added.

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But Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy who advised President BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE's coronavirus team, cast doubt on Abbott's estimation. 

“There is no way on God’s green earth that Texas is anywhere even close to herd immunity," Osterholm told The New York Times. "Look no further than Michigan and Minnesota, which have much higher rates of vaccination than Texas. And we’re already seeing widespread transmission.”

About 19 percent of the population in Texas is vaccinated, the Times estimated, while Michigan comes in at about 22 percent and Minnesota at 24.
 
Leading public health officials with the federal government have said upward of at least 60 percent of the total U.S. population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach nationwide herd immunity. 
 
“Anybody who will tell you exactly what the level of herd immunity is is also likely to want to sell you a bridge," Osterholm said. 
 
Abbott has come under fire from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other critics for lifting his state's mask mandate and social distancing guidelines earlier this year, a decision he said was made based on state data and math. 

"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said when he lifted the mandate in early March.

"We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."