We can prevent another COVID-19 surge—with the help of one key strategy: getting enough of the U.S. population vaccinated, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told The Washington Post this week.
Thanks to the supply of vaccines that can help prevent symptomatic COVID-19 infections, the country now has a “positive wild card” in the mix that we didn’t have prior to the COVID-19 surges we experienced earlier in the pandemic, Dr. Fauci said. While there are always a number of uncertain variables when you’re facing a pandemic, he explained, having the vaccines is certain to be a game changer in our ability to stave off another precipitous rise in cases and deaths.
“One thing that is quite certain is that when you have a vaccine or a group of vaccines that are as highly effective in the real world…as these vaccines are, and you get a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, the chances of there being a surge are extraordinarily low,” Dr. Fauci said. “I mean quite, quite low.”
Dr. Fauci emphasized that we’re not there yet, though, and that keeping up the pace of vaccinations is crucial at this point. “You don’t want to declare victory prematurely, and it’s for that reason why we’re continuing to put the push on as getting as many people vaccinated as we possibly can,” Dr. Fauci said.
As the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, Dr. Fauci believes that the country can begin to seriously mitigate the risk of a surge as soon as July—as long as we continue to vaccinate people quickly enough to get 70% of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by the Fourth of July weekend, a target previously set by Biden. If the U.S. meets that goal, Dr. Fauci says, “There will be enough protection in the community that I really don’t foresee there being the risk of a surge, provided we continue to get people vaccinated at the rate we have now.”
With about six weeks to go until July 4, we are getting close to hitting Biden’s target. Currently, 60.5% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 48.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 will be an important milestone, it is not enough for the country to achieve herd immunity, where enough of the population is vaccinated to limit the spread of the disease such that unvaccinated people receive some protection as well. While the percentage required to hit herd immunity for COVID-19 is not clear, Dr. Fauci previously predicted it was around 75% to 85% of the whole population.
As Dr. Fauci has explained, we will need to get a majority of children vaccinated as well to achieve true herd immunity. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children ages 12 to 15. (Already in the first week after authorization, over 600,000 kids received their first dose.) Pfizer and other vaccine makers are also studying vaccine efficacy and safety in younger age groups, and are expected to start applying for emergency use authorizations throughout 2021. And the more people who get vaccinated in the U.S., adults and children alike, the more likely it is that COVID-19 surges will be a thing of the past.