It’s the million-dollar question: When can life go back to normal?
Anthony Fauci gets asked this a lot.
“It’s very difficult to predict, but I would think that we would approach some degree of normality as we get towards the end of the summer and into the fall, and a considerable degree of normality as we get into the winter of this coming year,” he told Insider in a recent interview.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was referring specifically to life in the US. He pointed to two main factors that will determine whether his timeline is correct: “If we get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated, and it turns out how I suspect: that vaccinated people don’t transmit.”
Both of these variables are trending in a positive direction. Growing evidence shows that US-authorized shots do indeed keep vaccinated people from readily transmitting the virus, thereby stymieing its spread.
“I think ultimately, that’s going to be the case,” Fauci said.
As for the number of Americans getting vaccinated, and how quickly, the ramp-up has been impressive. Vaccination rates in the US doubled from February to March, then again from early March to early April. More than 3 million doses are now given daily in the US, on average, and 20% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
If enough people get vaccinated, the US could approach herd immunity
In clinical trials before their shots were authorized, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson only showed that their vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19. They didn’t test whether their vaccines prevent asymptomatic cases.
But of course, without curtailing symptomless infections, it’s difficult to stop transmission. Now, an expanding body of research suggests that people who get the vaccines are less likely to spread the virus after all.
Still, Fauci said, “we haven’t definitively proven it yet.”
Studies are also increasingly showing that the shots offer protection that lasts at least six months.
Once enough Americans get vaccinated, the US could approach herd immunity: the point at which enough people are either vaccinated or immune due to an infection to stymie the virus’ overall spread. Fauci has estimated this threshold could be between 70% and 85% of the population.
“If we could just hold on for a while, we’ll reach a point where the protection of the general community by the vaccine would really make it very unlikely that we’re going to have another surge,” he said.
If the rate of US vaccination continues to double month-over-month, the country could reach that threshold as early as June.
Already, President Biden has asked states to move the date when every American over 16 will be eligible for a vaccine up to April 19. According to a Kaiser Health News poll, the percentage of Americans who said they were hesitant to get vaccinated has halved since January. And on Friday, Pfizer asked US regulators to make its shot available to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15, since a recent trial showed it works for that age group.
“We ultimately would like to get, and have to get, children into that mix,” Fauci said during a March Senate hearing.