Herd immunity ‘not a possibility’ with delta variant, Oxford Vaccine Group head says

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The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said herd immunity is “not a possibility” because of the highly infectious delta variant, which is more transmissible than previous strains of the virus and is causing infections to surge globally.

“I think we are in a situation here with this current vacant where herd immunity is not a possibility because it still infects vaccinated individuals,” Andrew Pollard said on Tuesday.

Vaccines that have been approved in the U.S. and the United Kingdom have proven to be highly effective against preventing serious illness from COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are approved in both countries. The U.S. is also administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the U.K. has approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

There have, however, been reports of “breakthrough cases” in the U.S., which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled as positive infections that show up in individuals who have been fully vaccinated.

CNN reported last week that 99.99 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a breakthrough case that resulted in hospitalization or death, citing data from the CDC.

Pollard doubled down on his outlook that herd immunity is not feasible, cautioning that the virus will “throw up” another variant next that could be even more transmissible, making herd immunity that more difficult to achieve.

“I suspect that what the virus will throw up next is a variant which is perhaps even better at transmitting in vaccinated populations,” Pollard said. “And so that’s an even more of a reason not to be making a vaccine program around herd immunity.”

He continued, emphasizing that there is nothing the U.K. can do to “stop the emergence of new variants,” adding “they’re going to happen.”

“And if anything we need to focus now not on what might stop new variants because I don’t think we have any facility to control that. We need to focus on thinking about how do we prevent people from dying or going to hospital,” Pollard said.

He said the U.K.’s strategy around variants should be to “play a more active role in the global imperative, which is to stop people from dying.”

“That means making sure doses are going to the right people,” Pollard added.

Roughly 39.5 million people, approximately 75 percent of adults, are fully vaccinated in the U.K., according to the BBC.

More than 4.54 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, according to The New York Times.

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