The World Health Organization does not believe we will achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 in 2021. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organization, said that even as countries distribute the vaccines, officials will need to maintain public health measures aimed at controlling the spread of the virus. Those measures include social distancing, wearing masks, and in some cases closing down non-essential businesses.
"The vaccines are going to come. They are going to go to all countries, but meanwhile, we mustn't forget that there are measures that work," Swaminathan said during a press briefing. "It's really important to remind people, both government as well as individuals, on the responsibilities and measures we need to practice for the rest of this year at least, because even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we're not going to achieve any levels of population immunity, herd immunity, in 2021."
Herd immunity is reached when between 70-80 percent of a population is immune to a virus, either through vaccinations or natural immunity from contracting the virus. Due to the infectious nature of COVID-19, scientists believe we must get closer to 80% immunity.
Swaminathan said that while some countries may be able to achieve herd immunity this year, it will still be some time people living in the world's poorest countries are vaccinated.
"Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it's not going to protect people across the world," she said.
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