What will it take to reach herd immunity and end the pandemic in the US?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- COVID-19 vaccines will be available to all adults who want them here in North Carolina and many other states in next couple of weeks.

It's an obvious sign that the vaccination effort is going well.

The vaccine distribution across American followed a similar path, first inoculating those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 to slow the rate of hospitalizations and death.

Now that those people have been given the chance to be vaccinated, we asked a former public health official what is next.

"Our strategy for the distribution of vaccine will move more toward what's the best way to promote herd immunity," Dr. Peter Morris said.

Morris is a pediatrician and epidemiologist with a Master's degree in public health, who served as the medical director for Wake County Human Services for 27 years.

He now heads up the non-profit Urban Ministries of Wake County and its health clinic.

He's been advocating for getting vaccines not only to the medically vulnerable, but to those in the marginalized communities that Urban Ministries serves.

Once we achieve those goals, he sees health officials setting another one in the quest for that much discussed herd immunity that could end the pandemic.

"We'd say, OK, who is the most likely to spread the illness," Morris said.

He has seen a lot of those people in the recent spring break video showing young folks congregating in resort cities and towns while ignoring physical distancing rules and with few wearing masks.

Until groups like those hitting the resorts and other socially active people are vaccinated, we may still see surges, according to Morris.

"Youth who are flocking to the beaches, or who are violating mask rules and who are placing themselves and others at risk can and should be vaccinated," Morris said. "And we should encourage them to do so. And it would greatly hasten the pace towards herd immunity, no doubt about it."

He added that the vaccines now in use were not developed with herd immunity as the goal but rather to prevent hospitalization and death.

But as it turns out, chance was on our side with the vaccine, according to Morris.

"As we gave it to millions of Americans, it actually looks like it could be the vaccine to create herd immunity," he said.

Like others in the medical field, Morris is concerned that once we pass the 50% mark for vaccinations the pace will slow.

And then, he said, it will take more education and vaccine encouragement to continue moving toward herd immunity.
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