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Doctors explain the gradual road to “herd immunity”

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Herd immunity is the scientific term for population immunity and in Coronavirus context it's the time when "enough" people are COVID-19 immune or vaccinated to resume normal life.

"Getting to population-level immunity so that we can get back to our normal lives is not going to be an on/off switch," Gundersen Health System vaccine expert Dr. Raj Naik said. "It's going to be a gradual process and whether or not we get to true herd immunity so that the disease gets to extraordinarily low rates is something that I'm not sure we're going to achieve."

He said the United States will not reach herd or population immunity until doctors learn if vaccines reduce transmission of the virus in addition to protection.

Dr. Naik said early vaccine study results in the U.S., U.K., and Israel show promising signs of transmission reduction.

"The vaccines look like they have some impact most likely on decreasing transmission although it's not conclusive yet and it doesn't mean that we can lose the masks yet," Dr. Naik said. "We still need to do that until we have enough population-level immunity that we can start to get back to a more normal life."

He said zero COVID will not happen but normal life still can.

"If you had to ask me when that might happen, We're looking at a much more normal fall hopefully even summer... much better than last summer," Dr. Naik said.

Similar to participating in virus precautions like social distancing and wearing a mask in public, physicians said it will take a selfless population to reach heard immunity.

"Vaccination isn't just for your own self it is also to protect the other people around you," Mayo Clinic Health System family medicine Dr. Erin Morcomb said. "So you might be a really healthy person and not think that you need the vaccine, but we're all in contact with a lot of other people throughout our daily lives and we don't really know what their health conditions are and what risks they may have."

She predicts the final hurdle starts during Phase 2 of vaccine distribution when the general population gets access.

"Phase 2 includes the whole entire population," Dr. Morcomb We don't know exactly when they're going to release that but I would anticipate just my guess by summertime there will be more available to the population."

Dr. Naik predicts two more vaccines could get emergency use approval from the FDA by spring or summer--the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Novavax one.

He also said the Wisconsin Department of Health Services run community vaccination site in La Crosse county could happen in the next two months.

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Marcus Aarsvold

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