How Quickly We Need To Ramp Up Vaccinations To Get To Herd Immunity

A shorter version of this column has been published by Axios.

The country needs to ramp up vaccinations rapidly if we are to reach herd immunity by, say, July 4th our Independence Day, Labor Day, or even by the beginning of next year.

Some basic math and assumptions paint the picture:

+ We need to  average 2.4 million doses a day starting now to reach the point where 70% of the population is vaccinated by July 4th (assuming two doses needed per person).  There are many estimates out there of what’s needed for herd immunity, and that’s probably the bare minimum. It’s also harder than it sounds, because kids aren’t being vaccinated right now, so we need to reach the vast majority of adults, which means overcoming hesitancy where it exists.

+ It’s 1.9 million doses to reach it by Labor Day.

+ And 1.2 million doses per day if we achieve the goal by January 1, 2022.

Some believe vaccination could be delayed somewhat for people who have been infected, reducing the target numbers that need to be reached immediately.

Last Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1.6 million vaccinations were given across the U.S. and yesterday the Biden administration revised its goal to 1.5 million shots per day for the first 100 days.  If the administration uses that time to begin to put measures in place such as mobile vaccination clinics, mass vaccination sites, more pharmacy-based vaccination and other steps described in the Biden strategy to replace the current broken vaccination non-system with one that works, it seems reasonable to expect a  ramp up in the numbers of shots in arms after that.  Increasing to two to three million vaccinations per day by late Spring or early Summer seems doable.

The most important goal to be achieved is not a single number in a hundred days or two hundred days, but a steady increase in vaccinations towards the level the country needs to ultimately reach.

The experienced team appointed by the president should add to confidence the job will get done, but they will inevitably need to adapt on the fly as new problems emerge, including potentially new vaccine variants.

Yes but: the limiting factor may be the supply of vaccine. That too seems somewhat hopeful with J+J/Janssen and then others from AstraZeneca and Novavax expected to come on line. And, the J&J vaccine is expected to be a single dose rather than two, so it would mean fewer overall doses are needed. Still, the biggest mystery remains what the supply of vaccine is expected to be and when new approved vaccines will be ready, even if everything breaks favorably.

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