Herd immunity in Nebraska: A breakdown of which numbers matter

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 8:43 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Each COVID-19 vaccine that goes into an arm, gets Nebraska one step closer to herd immunity. Defining that goal, however, has been somewhat abstract recently.

New information shared by Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests that definition is sharpening as the pandemic progresses and a local doctor agrees.

Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, CHI Health’s Chief of Infectious Disease, said she’s optimistic COVID-19 will be eradicated with a vaccine just like Polio.

“Herd immunity is a real thing,” she said.

It’s calculated by the percentage of people fully vaccinated, she explained. So if a person is receiving Pfizer or Moderna, they much have both doses; and for Johnson & Johnson, it’s just one.

The entire process is like a chain reaction, Dr. Vivekanandan said. The more people vaccinated “...will bring the severity of the disease down. It’s kind of like building our invisible barrier around all of us,” she said.

That, in turn, reduces how quickly the virus can spread and ultimately slows the rate of hospitalizations. But the key is getting the vaccine as soon as you can.

“The best vaccine for you is the vaccine that is available,” said Phil Rooney, Douglas County Health Department’s Resource Specialist.

Rooney said waiting for the specific shot you want could be the difference between slowing down or speeding up the rate of herd immunity.

He also quashed rumors that there’s any sort of “vaccine hierarchy.”

“People shouldn’t get hung up on efficacy numbers. Those do not compare one vaccine to the other. They compare the people who took that vaccine over the other, to a placebo group,” Rooney said.

So what is the key number to focus on?

“Ideally we want to reach 85%,” Dr. Vivekanandan said, attributing the number to a report from Dr. Fauci.

That 85% of the population goes for the entire country and states respectively, no matter their size, she said.

The CDC reports around 70% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to be in somewhat of a safe zone; but of course, the higher the better.

So how does Nebraska stack up so far?

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates 396,000 residents have completed their full vaccine series; that equates to 26.7%, as of Thursday.

Experts say the next challenge in getting that number higher is vaccinating the state’s younger residents and minorities — two population groups that lag behind others.

“As we start to see cases come back up, it’s definitely among the younger population: 20-49 year-olds,” Rooney said. “That’s the group that’s active, out and social.”

Dr. Vivekanandan also warned that the UK variant is quickly becoming more dominant. She praised the state’s efforts in its vaccine rollout but reminded people the best way to continue protecting themselves and others is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, continue to wear masks, and reduce indoor activities.

While Douglas County is approaching a 28% vaccinated population, Rooney said there’s a long way to go — and he would like to see teenagers filling up vaccine clinics so they can show their friends and siblings how to participate in this community-wide effort.

It’s important to note that vaccine supply varies from week to week. There is no guarantee of a certain amount; so again, if experts and authorities suggest that if you have an opportunity to schedule a vaccination appointment, you are encouraged to do so immediately.

DCHD has a map of COVID-19 vaccine clinics online.

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