Health officials worry Alabama’s low vaccination numbers will impact herd immunity

Personal protection without herd immunity
Personal protection without herd immunity
Updated: Jun. 13, 2021 at 10:43 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - With low vaccination rates across the state, health officials predict herd immunity may not be achievable in Alabama.

Jefferson County Infectious Disease expert Dr. Wesley Willeford says herd immunity is when a large chunk of the population is immune to the virus by vaccine immunity or natural immunity. He said it results in the virus being irradiated because it has no one left to infect.

But, Dr. Willeford worries the low vaccination numbers across the state might make herd immunity unachievable. He said it is important to focus on personal immunity as well.

“The problem with herd immunity for Covid-19 is the fact that it is so contagious from one person to the next,” Willeford said. “If it weren’t so contagious, it might be a different story. Because it is so easy to pass from one person to the next, for us to get herd immunity, we are going to have to have very very high levels of vaccination. I don’t think we are going to reach that in portions of the United States.”

Willeford said if vaccination rates stay low, Covid-19 could stick around.

“I think what we are going to see Covid -19 may still be present, but people who are vaccinated, people who have some immunity, may never get it. They may never be that impacted by it,” he said.

Willeford said if Covid-19 is still around in the future, people with vaccine immunity have more guaranteed protection than people with natural immunity.

“By getting the vaccine, you are reducing your chance of having a bad outcome almost to zero,” Willeford said. “Get the vaccine because we know what that protection is going to be, where as with natural infection, we don’t know how much protection you have the next time you encounter the virus.”

Willeford said the vaccine provides 90 to 95 percent immunity, but it is unclear how much immunity someone gets from a previous Covid-19 infection.

“Your luck may hold out, you may do okay, but there is still a good chance you could land in the hospital,” Willeford said about people with natural immunity from a previous infection. “There is still a good chance you could have a bad outcome.”

He said the more people to get vaccinated, the closer the state will get to herd immunity.

“Being able to have that protection on a mass scale is really just going to make everyone’s lives better,” he said.

Dr. Willeford said COVID natural immunity can vary. One person can have more than someone else after having the virus. He said that is why they still recommend getting the vaccine even if you have had Covid-19.

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