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KDHE’s Dr. Lee Norman discusses likeliness of COVID-19 herd immunity



TOPEKA, Kan. – As more people are eligible for the COVID vaccine, you might wonder when life will get somewhat back to normal. 13 News took our questions about so-called “herd immunity” to Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Doctor Lee Norman.

According to Harvard Health, herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely.

Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination, but it can also occur through natural infection.

KDHE Secretary, Doctor Lee Norman told 13 News that complete herd immunity is unlikely in the U.S and Kansas.

“It is unlikely that complete herd (population) immunity, and therefore Covid-19 eradication, will happen in the US or Kansas, and if it were to happen, not soon. Why?  Many people are choosing to not get vaccinated, and with no public mandate to do so, that won’t change. ” He says because the disease is so widespread and many people are choosing not to be vaccinated, the disease will always be present somewhere.

Norman compared the Coronavirus to other diseases to determine the goal percentage for the country achieving herd immunity. When asked about what percentage of immunity the populations needs to reach, he had this to say:

“We’re not entirely sure until we get to know this virus better.  It is probably less infectious that measles, which requires 95+% percent of the population to be immune in order to keep it suppressed, but more infectious than polio, which is estimated to require more like 80+% immunity.  Polio took decades, but we eventually got there.  But even still, we cannot let our guard down.  A very reasonable and achievable goal for Covid-19 is 90%.”

Norman compared the covid-19 pandemic to a wildfire saying:

Even when we put out the expansive fire, there are still hotspots that we need to put out via surveillance, testing, and intervention, which is why testing will remain important for a very long time.

He did say there’s reason for optimism, he said we should have a more normal society in 6-12 months, but only through continued enhanced public health funding and attention .. and he says we could get to herd immunity in the next 3 years.