America’s Covid-19 endgame could be much closer than you think
People ride bicycles in Times Square in New York City during the pandemic on May 7, 2020. | Noam Galai/Getty ImagesAmerica’s vaccine campaign may not be too far off from getting Covid-19 under control. As America’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout got underway last December, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said the herd immunity threshold for the coronavirus could be 80 to 90 percent. The implication was demoralizing: America would need to get as many as 90 percent of its people vaccinated to truly stop the virus from spreading freely. With roughly 20 percent of the population still resistant to getting a vaccine, near-universal vaccination seems very unlikely — leading a recent New York Times article to suggest that herd immunity may be impossible.
But recent data out of Israel paints a more hopeful picture: With around 60 percent of its population vaccinated, Israel has managed to almost fully reopen its economy and crush the number of coronavirus cases and deaths to nearly zero. The country still has some requirements in place — particularly indoor masking and vaccine passport requirements — but it’s much closer to normal than it could afford to be, with any guarantee of safety, just months ago.
We still don’t know with certainty what the herd immunity threshold is. Some experts said it could be as low as 60 percent. But Israel’s data suggests that we could get our lives much closer to normal without worrying about the risk of deadly infection — at much less than 90 percent vaccination rates.
It’s a sign that there’s a fairly safe gray area — an endgame to Covid-19 of sorts — between lockdowns and the pre-pandemic normal, after a year in which trying to find that balance in the US sparked wave after wave of Covid-19.
The best news for Americans: We’re not too far from getting 60 percent of the country vaccinated. Already, more than 40 percent of the population has gotten at least one dose, and more than 30 percent are fully vaccinated, based on federal data. At current vaccination rates, the US could hit 60 percent partial vaccination as soon as this month or June and 60 percent full vaccination in June or July — all within three months. Already, Covid-19 cases in the US have dropped by around 27 percent in the last two weeks.
There’s still a lot we don’t know. Hitting 60 percent might allow for infection control without being true herd immunity, when the virus can no longer circulate widely. Either way, getting the vaccination rate higher than 60 percent would still help ensure the coronavirus doesn’t come back — especially if variants, changes in the weather and seasons, or state-by-state variation in vaccination rates can let the virus break through our defenses.
So until we know for sure it’s safe, it’s a good idea to continue to be cautious in some ways, including wearing masks and considering limiting some activities to vaccinated people.
Still, Israel shows that we might be able to resume our lives much closer to normal — enjoying everything from restaurants to live music and sports — long before we vaccinate 90 percent of the country (if we can even do that). As University of Florida biostatistician Natalie Dean told me, Israel’s data “bodes well for what we can do in the US. Maybe we can get really far off of 60 percent of people being vaccinated.”
What Israel tells us about the inflection point
Compared to the rest of the world, Israel’s current experience can look almost like another planet. Writing in the New York Times, Isabel Kershner detailed the normalcy Israelis now find themselves in as they get “a taste of a post-pandemic future.” People are dining out, going to packed concerts, and attending sports events — often without masking and with little to no physical distancing.
Part of the story here is that Israel still has some precautions in place, particularly masking and capacity requirements for indoor venues. The country has also embraced widespread use of “Green Passes,” in which proof of vaccination, past Covid-19 infection, or a negative coronavirus test becomes a ticket for some of the riskier activities, although enforcement is reportedly spotty.
But the big element seems to be Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign. Israel had tried reopening before, only to see some of the world’s biggest surges of the coronavirus last summer and then winter.
When Israel moved to nearly fully reopen in March, it still had a lot of daily new Covid-19 cases — more than twice as many per capita as the US. But this time, nearly 60 percent of the population had gotten at least one vaccine dose (which provides at least some protection), and more than 40 percent were fully vaccinated. With that, Israel’s cases started plummeting — dropping more than 95 percent through today. Israel had nearly fully reopened, but instead of the previous surges it saw in past reopenings, it saw a massive decline in cases.
Today, more than 60 percent of Israel’s population is fully vaccinated, and as the count
May 3, 2021 - VOX
People ride bicycles in Times Square in New York City during the pandemic on May 7, 2020. | Noam Galai/Getty ImagesAmerica’s vaccine campaign may not be too far off from getting Covid-19 under control. As America’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout got underway last December, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said the herd immunity threshold for the coronavirus could be 80 to 90 percent. The implication was demoralizing: America would need to get as many as 90 percent of its people vaccinated to..