The purpose of vaccinations is not only to immunize an individual but also to provide immunization for an entire community.
When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, the remaining members are also protected because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals (for example, children with leukemia)—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.
This is known as “community immunity” or “herd immunity” and is the primary benefit of vaccines both to individuals and also to society. The point at which herd immunity is obtained is related to the rate of transmission. The more infectious a disease is, the more people need to be immune before herd immunity can be achieved. The herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 is estimated to be about 70 percent of the U.S. population. This means that almost two-thirds of Americans will need to get the vaccine (or be infected with COVID-19) before herd immunity is achieved.
What happens next?
Pfizer announced that in the next few days it will request an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA Commissioner is authorized by federal law to allow unapproved medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions caused by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threat agents when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives. Pfizer has said it expects to produce up to 50 million doses in 2020, and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Since each vaccine requires two doses per person, they could immunize 25 million people by the end of the year and 650 million by the end of 2021.
Moderna has partnered with the Swiss drugmaker Lonza to produce 400 million doses of the vaccine annually. The U.S. firm is aiming for 500 million to 1 billion doses in total for 2021.
The U.S. government has said that the highest-priority groups, which include healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions, will get the vaccine first.
This article originally appeared here on The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) website. Used with permission.