Buzzkill: Fauci and others no longer discuss herd immunity. "It's off the table" says one expert

"Herd immunity" is the magic phrase – the finish line we've all been running toward – that will get us to the other side of the devastating Covid pandemic. Once we get there, masks will be mostly a thing of the past (or so we hope). Handshakes and hugs might even come back. And now it seems to reason that, with more than half of Americans having been vaccinated for Covid-19 with at least one shot, we're getting much closer to at least seeing the trophy, even if it's from a distance.

But, according to USA Today, as we get closer to population immunity widespread enough to keep everyone safe – even those who haven't been vaccinated – medical experts are suddenly doubting we'll ever actually reach herd immunity. For instance, one Mayo Clinic expert said, "There is no eradication at this point, it's off the table." The problem? It's not that herd immunity wouldn't work, but rather that around 25% of Americans just don't want to get vaccinated.

From USA Today:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, doesn't want to talk about herd immunity anymore. 

"Rather than concentrating on an elusive number, let's get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can," he said at a White House briefing last week, a sentiment he's since repeated.

What Fauci doesn't explicitly state, but others do, is that with about a quarter of Americans saying they might not want to be immunized, herd immunity is simply not an attainable goal.   

"It's theoretically possible but we as a society have rejected that," said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "There is no eradication at this point, it's off the table. The only thing we can talk about is control."

So rather than focus on herd immunity, the focus is now on just getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

"We need to pivot the conversation away from thinking of herd immunity as a target we get to or we don't," says Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of statistical science the University of Texas at Austin. "It's simple – the more immunity, the better off we'll all be."

Image by Cavernia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0