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Experts say that herd immunity is unlikely soon, if ever

Public health experts and scientists say they do not believe herd immunity is attainable for the near future due to dropping COVID-19 vaccination rates, The New York Times reports.

According to the experts who spoke with the Times, the coronavirus will more likely become a constant but manageable threat in the U.S. for several more years. New COVID-19 strains are also reportedly developing too quickly for herd immunity to be reasonably expected.

“The virus is unlikely to go away,” Emory University evolutionary biologist Rustom Antia told the newspaper. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”

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Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Delta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic MORE, the nation's top infectious diseases expert and President BidenJoe BidenBiden prepares to confront Putin Ukrainian president thanks G-7 nations for statement of support Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE's chief medical adviser, acknowledged a shift in thinking by experts who had once believed achieving herd immunity by summer was a possibility.

“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” Fauci said to the Times, adding this was why he had stopped using the term "herd immunity."

“I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down," he said.

Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told the newspaper that vaccination is still the key to combatting the pandemic.

A high level of immunity "is not like winning a race,” Lipsitch said. “You have to then feed it. You have to keep vaccinating to stay above that threshold.”

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Initially, public health experts like Fauci had said herd immunity could be achieved by immunizing around 70 percent of the population. However, as new strains like the B.1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom began to crop up, that number was raised to around 80 or possibly even 90 percent.

If herd immunity is not attainable, the most important goal will be to lower the rate of hospitalizations and deaths, experts told the Times, focusing on the most vulnerable populations.

“What we want to do at the very least is get to a point where we have just really sporadic little flare-ups,” Carl Bergstrom, evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington, told the newspaper. "That would be a very sensible target in this country where we have an excellent vaccine and the ability to deliver it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 56 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and more than 40 percent are fully immunized.