Vaccinations are moving at a fast clip, but herd immunity remains elusive goal

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 5:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is about seven weeks away from what’s being called a major milestone in the state’s fight against COVID-19.

By the end of May, health officials expect to have 1.5 million doses of the vaccine administered. That number translates to roughly 70% of the state’s residents 16 and up being fully vaccinated.

The question is: What does that mean in terms of herd immunity?

“Herd immunity is our dream here at the Department of Health,” said spokesperson Brooks Baehr. “We want that to happen. But what is that number? We don’t exactly know.”

Herd immunity is achieved when enough people in a population have been vaccinated to break the flow of transmission and make it difficult for someone who’s infected to pass on the disease.

To get there, health experts say between 70 and 90% of an entire population, including children, need to be immune.

It’s a target that’s still a ways off.

But with more than 900,000 doses of the COVID vaccine administered in Hawaii, health officials say there’s already some level of herd immunity.

“Once you’ve got your first 200,000 to 300,000 doses out there, you’re already starting to break down that chain of transmission,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel.

Epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller believes the goal of getting 70% of adults vaccinated will play a critical role in keeping people out of the hospital and from dying.

But he added the virus will continue be a threat.

“That would have an impact ― and be a very, very good thing,” he said. “It would not mean there is not transmission going on in the community, which is dangerous, so we still have a job to be done there.”

Right now, mutant strains of the coronavirus remain a concern.

“The more variants spread, the higher percentage of the population may need to be vaccinated for us to achieve herd immunity,” Baehr said.

That includes vaccinating children.

With clinical trials still underway, officials say the earliest kids could be eligible for the shot is this summer. “We need to get as many of our adults as possible and a number of kids vaccinated before we can get truly relaxed and eliminate most of these public health measures,” said Raethel.

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