Local expert talks on ‘herd immunity’ and variants

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FILE – In this April 8, 2021 file photo, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a pop up vaccination site in the Staten Island borough of New York. With a green light from federal health officials, several states resumed use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, April 24. Among the venues where it’s being deployed is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where free vaccinations were available to anyone 18 or older. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KGPE) – Reaching herd immunity in the foreseeable future in the U.S. is unlikely due to vaccine hesitancy and variants, according to scientists and health experts who spoke with the New York Times. The article published on Monday has generated much conversation on what this could mean for the country — and for health experts locally, what this could mean for the Central Valley.

“It’s unfortunate and a little disheartening actually,” UC Merced Assistant Professor of Biology Juris Grasis said. “The numbers that would require for us to reach herd immunity or population immunity is actually quite high.”

Instead, the article states that experts believe that the virus could become a manageable threat. Grasis agreed. But variants continue to be a growing concern.

Grasis said the vaccines are effective against the current variants. But the concern is a variant could emerge that evades the vaccine protection.

“As people do not get vaccinated, as we do not reach herd immunity, then that allows the virus some breathing room to mutate and potentially get around our defenses, the vaccines,” Grasis said.

As the U.S. looks to vaccinate more people, the FDA could soon approve the Pfizer COVID-19 shot for adolescents ages 12 to 15. And local counties are starting to prepare for vaccine distribution.

“We’re making preparations for that here in Tulare County. We’re in communication with our health providers, particularly with our pediatricians, ” Carrie Monteiro with the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency said.

But as more people in the U.S. have access to the vaccine, Grasis said it’s important to have a global view of vaccinations.

“The virus doesn’t stop at the borders,” Grasis said. “What’s going on currently in India is allowing for a lot of variants to be spread that can be spread all around the world and then those sort of variants could really affect us and how well our vaccines work.”

Health experts are urging people who have access to the vaccine to get it for their loved ones and community.

 “You’re doing it for the love of others. You’re doing it not just for yourself, you’re doing it for your family and for your friends,” Grasis said.

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July 23 2021 05:30 pm

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