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Doctors weigh in on potential for achieving 'herd immunity' with COVID-19

The question remains: is that enough to end the COVID-19 pandemic?

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — A winter wave of COVID-19 has hit millions of Americans.

But it’s also strengthened our defenses.

A new model shows 73 percent of U.S. residents are now “immune” to Omicron.

"At the start of the pandemic, that would have given us herd immunity,” said Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease specialist at UPMC. “The problem now is Omicron is so much more infectious.”

Dr. Goldman says that means we would now need an estimated 95 percent of our population to be immune.

“I think that means Omicron will still circulate, despite the fact that we have pretty high levels of immunity,” he explained.

Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, agrees it’s hard to say if “herd immunity” will ever happen.

“You can’t really count all of us that have been infected as a cumulative herd immunity because the herd immunity comes and goes depending on when you were infected or vaccinated,” he said.

Both doctors do believe all this immunity could be enough to soon turn COVID-19 into an endemic “seasonal sickness” rather than a pandemic.

"We don’t know what the next variant will bring but we’re hoping now that many of us are immune to Omicron, that will portend a mild summer," said Dr. Kontra.

Medical experts also think a more regular COVID booster shot will be in our future.

"It would surprise me a little bit if it’s really once a year," said Dr. Goldman. "My guess is it’s [going to be] every two, three, four, five years, [but] that’s a guess."

The real question is—how long will all this immunity last?

Doctors say it remains unclear but they stress vaccination continues to be the best way to protect yourself against severe illness.

"If you haven’t had your booster, get out there and get one and we’ll see what the fall brings," said Dr. Kontra.

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