Focus on herd immunity, not vaccination rates

As President Biden proposed a national vaccine requirement and set a new target of “97 percent, 98 percent” vaccinated, we should look at the data to see if this goal is reasonable.

Where are we?

By CDC figures, the need for vaccinations may be just 8 percent of the population, since, as they report, 74 percent of those over age 18 have already been double-vaccinated:

Since 20 percent of the overall population have already had COVID, based on CDC figures, and there is a risk for COVID-afflicted individuals in getting vaccinated (they already have antibodies in their bloodstream), that could mean just 6 percent of those over age 18 would still need to be vaccinated. And if the vaccination rate continues as it has, the current 74 percent level will exceed 80 percent soon:

Source: Author’s graph of  CDC Data using aggregate data to show/project 18+ results

What level can the U.S. achieve and what is “needed”?

  • The highest level of vaccination for any sizeable country is currently 90 percent in Portugal. Will 98 percent ever be reached in the U.S.? Unlikely. So, we should agree that the President’s goal of “97 percent, 98 percent” was a misstatement.
  • A recent study suggested that up to a third of the population may already have had CV, which means the need for vaccines may be just 67 percent if one-third of the population has already had CV (a level already achieved of 74 percent amongst those 18+). The bottom line is there aren’t as many people who need to be vaccinated as some would suggest.
  • Since the vaccination rate for young children is essentially 0 percent, there is no way to achieve an overall rate of 98 percent (the maximum rate is 85 percent even if every person 12+ were to get vaccinated). So when the media reported recently that “just 56 percent of the U.S. is vaccinated”, this was misleading because it included children who were not previously eligible to get vaccinated.

In fact, the average age of those vaccinated (for those 18+) is age 48 while the average age of those unvaccinated is 42 (per calculations based on vaccination data). In other words, the “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” could instead be called the “Pandemic of the Young.”

Now the concern turns to the Omicron variant, with many cases reported in the U.S., but with fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Measurement of cases is clearly a misleading metric. Since the number of cases is rising dramatically, the need for vaccination is decreasing quickly and is now just 6% of those adults 18+. The bottom line is to allow adults to make adult decisions.

Vaccine Hypocrisy

There is a claim that the 26 percent unvaccinated population put the 74 percent vaccinated population at risk. The claim is that the 26 percent are being selfish. But consider what’s being requested from liberals (i.e., those who support more government policy):

  • The risk among the 74 percent should already be near zero (that’s why they chose to get vaccinated, with the early promise that the vaccines were over 90 percent effective).
  • The risk among the 26 percent in getting vaccinated is the risk of complications (not zero as some claim, as potential effects of the vaccine, won’t be known for many years).
  • Many choosing not to get vaccinated (including those who have received one vaccination but not the second -- about 13 percent of those 18+) have already had COVID. It’s quite telling that a significant portion of the population has chosen not to get vaccinated, or have chosen to get one vaccination but not the second, including many healthcare workers who clearly know the pros and cons.

While testing reveals more cases that perhaps always existed amongst the healthy and with antibody treatments that prevent cases from becoming more severe, are we overreacting to the increase in the number of cases reported? With a realistic goal to reach the maximum possible rate of vaccination between 67 percent and 82 percent, how is it possible to even consider a mandate? Can’t herd immunity be achieved without such draconian mandates?

Rich Yurkowitz is a healthcare actuary and author of the upcoming book, Medicare For All, Really?!

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