Herd Immunity

Can Current COVID Vaccines Get Us to Herd Immunity? Harvard Doctor Says Yes

Dr. Galit Alter, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says the virus can be defeated if vaccine manufacturers, states and people willing to get their shot when it’s their turn, work together.

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A Harvard immunologist is confident the current vaccines will be effective enough to bring us to herd immunity despite the variants that are out there.

“There’s no question that by standing up the vaccine in enough people, especially those that are most vulnerable to disease, that we can essentially get to herd immunity,” said Galit Alter, PhD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

But getting to the point where approximately 70-percent of the population is immune, Dr. Alter said, remains the challenge.

“It’s really dependent on the population and when folks are going to be willing to come and get vaccinated fast enough once the developers make enough vaccine,” she said.

We're not there yet, Alter said.

As of Friday, more than 2 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the state, including more than 1.3 million people in Massachusetts who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 650,411 who are now fully vaccinated, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said that supply remains an issue.

“This is a race against time,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “At the end of the day it’s a race against time.”

Alter studies vaccines and their impact against infectious diseases. She was recently quoted in a Harvard Gazette article titled, “Vaccines Can Get Us to Herd Immunity, Despite the Variants.”

"The most important data that made me optimistic was when J&J reported what their efficacy looked like in South Africa,” she said.

The Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID vaccine will be given out for the first time in Massachusetts Thursday at Tufts Medical Center.

Alter said the data showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85-percent effective against those new strains.

“That means that the immune response induced by the J&J vaccine is able to counteract those particular viral variants,” she said.

That, she said, gives her hope. If the manufacturers, states and people willing to get their shot when it’s their turn, work together, Alter believes the virus can be defeated.

She said masking and social distancing measures should remain in place until the data shows that enough of the population is immune and not spreading the virus.

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