HNN panel unpacks what herd immunity means ― and when Hawaii might reach it

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 8:33 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - When will Hawaii reach herd immunity?

And what happens when we do?

To help answer those questions, HNN hosted a special town hall, “Coronavirus Pandemic: Herd Immunity Hurdles,” on Thursday night with public health leaders from across the state.

About 41% of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated, far higher than the national average but still far less than what’s required to reach herd immunity ― or the immunity in the population that’s required for a virus to stop easily spreading in the community.

While it’s been said herd immunity could happen when somewhere between 70% to 90% of the population is vaccinated. State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said that’s a wide range and there’s really no true percentage for herd immunity. She did say, however, that Hawaii appears to be close because of our vaccination rates and case counts.

“It’s one of those frustrating questions when we’ll kind of know it when we get there, but I do believe we are getting close,” she said.

The panelists said that being fully vaccinated is key in limiting the spread of the virus.

“It’s really about reaching broadly and equally throughout our population in distributing the vaccine so we have protection everywhere,” Kemble said.

With children age 12 and up now eligible for the COVID vaccine, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it is critical to vaccinate this part of Hawaii’s population.

“There are 55,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 15 in our state. The more of them that get vaccinated, it’s less likely they will catch COVID and perhaps spread it to their kupuna,” Green said.

Green added that with younger people getting vaccinated, he is hopeful students will be able to safely get back into the classroom.

Although more people are getting vaccinated, panelists said there are still some obstacles in reaching herd immunity — the biggest challenge being COVID variants.

“We’re seriously worried about the variants coming in with high transmission potential,” said Dr. Lorrin Pang, Maui District Health officer.

“In the lay sense, the faster you can get people vaccinated — the more the better.”

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