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The US may reach herd immunity before summer as vaccine supply increases

Published Feb 25th, 2021 5:47PM EST
COVID Vaccine
Image: Studio Romantic/Adobe

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  • Pfizer and Moderna this week pledged to ship 140 million vaccine doses to the US over the next five weeks.
  • Coupled with the EUA recently issued to Johnson & Johnson for their single-dose COVID vaccine, some health experts believe the US could reach herd immunity before summer.
  • 45.2 million Americans have already received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Earlier this week, representatives from Pfizer and Moderna told lawmakers that they plan to significantly increase the volume of vaccine dose shipments to the US. If all goes according to plan, the companies will ship a combined 140 million vaccine doses to states over the next five weeks.

“Because of the dire need to vaccinate more people, we have ramped up production of doses,” Pfizer chief business officer John Young said before a House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee hearing.

Young added that Pfizer has been working closely with the federal government and that the Defense Production Act (DPA) is already helping the company meet its production goals by prioritizing access to some of the raw materials needed for vaccine production.

According to young, the DPA has been “helpful in ensuring that certain raw materials that initially were constrained, particularly some of the specialized lipids we use in the production of our vaccine, were prioritized by our third-party suppliers.”

Globally, Pfizer plans to boost 2021 production from an initial goal of 1.3 billion doses to 2 billion doses. Keep in mind that 2 billion doses are enough to vaccinate 1 billion people due to the two-dose schedule the vaccine requires.

If Pfizer and Moderna can deliver on their somewhat ambitious pledge, it would go a long way towards helping the US reach herd immunity sooner rather than later. While the vaccination effort in the US has improved dramatically after an embarrassingly sluggish start back in December, the US is now administering an estimated 1.3 million vaccine doses per day. Still, it would take the US 10-11 months to fully vaccinate 75% of the population at the current rate.

There are, however, a few reasons why reaching herd immunity might be achieved in a much shorter time frame. For starters, the administration of a single vaccine dose has proven to be effective at preventing a coronavirus infection.

Second, Johnson & Johnson recently received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA and said it can deliver 100 million single-dose vaccines to the US “during the first half of 2021.”

Richard Nettles of Johnson & Johnson earlier in the week added that the company is “continuing to partner with the U.S. government to explore all options to accelerate delivery.”

Third, while the official tally of COVID-19 infections in the US stands at 28.3 million, the real figure could be as high as 70-80 million when one takes into account asymptomatic infections. And seeing as how COVID reinfections, while possible, have been exceedingly rare to date, the cumulative number of people in the US with some type of immune defense to the coronavirus is arguably much higher than the raw data would suggest.

In light of the above, Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins recently speculated that life in the US could return to normal as early as May:

There is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection. As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected. At the current trajectory, I expect Covid will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.

All the while, the coronavirus infection rate has dropped drastically over the last month and a half. Whereas the US was seeing an average of nearly 260,000 new infections per day back in early January, that average has since dropped all the way down to 68,000 new infections per day.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.