Will People Get the Coronavirus Vaccine?
In an interview that aired during last night’s Aspen Ideas Festival broadcast, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed doubt that the United States would achieve herd immunity if a coronavirus vaccine became available. A major reason is the alarming number of Americans who oppose vaccination.
A coronavirus vaccine isn’t available yet, but three are in phase 3 clinical trials and more than 125 are in development. There’s no guarantee, however, that any of them will be effective in 100% of people who get it — the best humans have accomplished is 97% to 98%, with the measles vaccine. In the interview, Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said he’d “settle” for a coronavirus vaccine that was only 70% to 75% effective, which he said would bring us to the “herd immunity level.”
A population achieves herd immunity when the proportion of people who are immune to a disease passes a certain threshold, making it extremely difficult for the disease to spread even if it is reintroduced. The threshold is different for every disease, but as Tara Haelle wrote in Elemental, experts estimate that it’s about 60% to 80% for Covid-19.
Herd immunity can be achieved in two ways: Either everyone gets vaccinated, or enough people get infected with Covid-19 and — crucially — manage to recover. Since Covid-19 can be fatal, the latter is not a great option. Widespread vaccination is a safe way to establish herd immunity that doesn’t involve the risk of people dying — it has succeeded for measles, mumps, polio, and chickenpox — but it’s only going to work if enough people actually get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, anti-vaccination sentiment is strong in the United States and has seen a surge during the pandemic.
A CNN poll conducted in May showed that one-third of Americans would not get a coronavirus vaccine if it was available. It also revealed that 81% of Democrats and 64% of independent voters polled would try to get a vaccine if it existed, while only 51% of Republicans would do the same. Regular polls conducted by the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy have shown similar trends: The latest data, from May, showed that 31% of those polled would…