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How Long Until We Reach Herd Immunity? Expert Timelines Vary

By Daniel Vena, Keith Speights, and Jason Hall - Feb 12, 2021 at 7:00AM

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When will things get back to normal?

Although it's almost impossible to know for sure when it will happen, people are looking forward to when things "get back to normal." While estimates vary, some experts say that the U.S. will reach "herd immunity" once 80% to 85% of the population has been vaccinated. Given recent data, just when will we hit this benchmark so things can get back to normal?

On this clip from Motley Fool Live, recorded on Feb. 1, "The Wrap" host Jason Hall and contributors Danny Vena and Keith Speights discuss current estimates and offer prognostications for the future.

Jason Hall: So I want you tell us what month or maybe year. I don't know. I'll let you guys decide how to do this. Will the United States reach herd immunity for COVID-19? I'll say this. I know Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that ideally having 80% to 85% of the American population vaccinated. That's, I think, the latest comments that he's made that would get us to a point where we had herd immunity. So Danny, when do we get there?

Danny Vena: We're not getting there until the middle of 2022, and here is why. I think we're going to get more than 80% of people vaccinated. But the speed at which these variants are coming out, they had a U.K. variant come out, we've got a South African variant come out and so far we have been lucky in that the existing vaccines are effective against those variants. But if we get to a variant where it's not, it could get bad. We might have to start over again with them tweaking the recipe on the vaccines in order to cover more variants. I'm not the healthcare guys, so I'll defer to Keith on this.

Hall: Keith, I'm going to go in front of you this time too.

Keith Speights: Go ahead.

Hall: Same thing. I want to make the most uneducated answer I could. Of course, my wife works in healthcare. She is actually working on a treatment for coronavirus, which means that I have this false sense of specialized knowledge that doesn't live in my brain but I pretend that it does. I think about this.

The variants are a concern. They've just found a mutation in the wastewater here. They're still trying to identify if it's one of these identified strains or if it's a new one.

That does present a risk, particularly with the mRNA-based vaccines that are more narrow in the protection that they give, versus the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 1.15%) that's hopefully in the next month or so, maybe we'll see start to get moving toward rolling out.

I think January, I think a year from now. I'm going to say a year from now because I'm going to be optimistic that we're not going to have any strains that these mRNA vaccines are not going to be able to provide immunity to. Keith, tell us how stupid we are here.

Speights: You're not stupid at all, but I am going to be more optimistic than either of you guys. I'm going to say November of this year. I say that, first of all, Dr. Fauci has said 80% or so should get us to herd immunity. Pfizer (PFE 2.01%) and Moderna (MRNA -0.76%) think that they're going to have enough vaccines available for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July. All right?

Hall: Right.

Speights: Keep that in mind. You mentioned Johnson & Johnson. We can talk more about them, but they will be entering the picture very soon. We'll have others on the way.

I think by the time November rolls around, we will be above that 80% rate that Dr. Fauci has indicated and I do think that even though there are some concerns about these variants, we're going to even talk more about that. I think we're going to be OK for now. I think the real risk is in the future, future variants that could come out. It could be that we reach herd immunity and then lose herd immunity down the road.

Hall: Because there's a large enough population with one of these other strains.

Speights: Yeah. I think that thing for everyone to realize is COVID is going to be just part of our life going forward. This isn't going to be a one and done we're finished with it. I don't think we're going to be living in a pandemic forever. Don't get me wrong, but this is going to be something that's going to be persistent.

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