To the editor:
For the record, I am not a virologist. I am not a doctor. I am not journalist. I am just a man who reads, watches, studies, observes and asks questions.
My question now is: Will the Omicron variant of COVID-19 mean the end the COVID-19 pandemic?
From what we have heard so far, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is less severe but more contagious than earlier variants. It may seem contrarian, but the new Omicron variant may be the secret to end the whole pandemic.
Early on we heard a lot about how the pandemic would end when we reached “herd immunity.”
Per the Mayo Clinic: “Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.”
Often a percentage of the population must be capable of getting a disease in order for it to spread. This is called a threshold proportion. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than this threshold, the spread of the disease will decline.
This is known as the herd immunity threshold.
Herd immunity can be reached when enough people in the population have recovered from a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection.
Herd immunity also can be reached when enough people have been vaccinated against a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection. Unlike the natural infection method, vaccines create immunity without causing illness or resulting complications. Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella and many others.”
Although the exact level of immunity to COVID-19 needed for herd immunity is a point of discussion, 70% seems to be the most common definition. So to reach herd immunity in the U.S., we would need to have a total of 70% of the population with natural COVID-19 antibodies from previously having had COVID-19 or been effectively vaccinated against COVID-19.
Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of Dec. 17, 2021:
- Number of fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in the U.S.: 203,200,000
- Number that have fully recovered from COVID-19: 50,479,372
- Total of fully vaccinated and recovered from COVID-19: 253,679,392
- Per the 2020 U.S. Census, there were 332,998,518 people in the U.S.
Doing the simple math, we see that 76.1% of the U.S. population has either recovered from COVID-19 or is full vaccinated against COVID-19, which is well above the 70% threshold needed to attain herd immunity.
Now for argument’s sake, let’s assume that all of the fully recovered people also chose to get vaccinated. That would leave us with the 203,200,000 who have been vaccinated. Assuming that full vaccination truly gives immunity to COVID-19, that would mean that at a minimum 61.0% of the U.S. population has immunity from COVID-19 because of their full-vaccination status.
To hit the 70% vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity, we would need to have a total of 233,098,926 people vaccinated. So to meet a 70% vaccination rate, we need to have an additional 29,898,976 people vaccinated. Per the CDC, as of Dec. 17 we are averaging an additional newly 1,799,583 people vaccinated per day. At the current rate of vaccination, we should reach a 70% vaccination rate and herd immunity in 16.6 days.
Break out the champagne! It appears as a country we should be at herd immunity the first week in January 2022 just from the fully vaccinated people, not even counting the people that have recovered from COVID-19.
No, wait. I guess that is not really true for a couple of reasons.
There does not seem to be any reliable data about the number of breakthrough cases for the fully vaccinated, but everyone agrees that they do exist. No vaccines are 100% effective, and that has certainly proven to be true with the current COVID-19 vaccines.
In August 2021, Matt Weissenbach, epidemiologist and senior director of clinical affairs for clinical surveillance and compliance at Wolters Kluwer, told Dale Smith and Jessica Rendall in an interview that COVID-19 reinfection cases make up less than 1% of all COVID-19 cases.
Which brings us back to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The variant is new so there is no long-term data available currently about transmissibility and severity. Early information seems to indicate that the Omicron variant is more transmissible but less severe.
Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist and CEO of Foxhall Cardiology, reacted to a study that found a new coronavirus mutation reportedly mirrors a change that occurred as the SARS virus began to weaken, saying that “it’s well-known that as viruses progress, they typically mutate to weaker forms.” The phenomenon is known as “Muller’s Ratchet,” Dr. Oskui said, adding that this is virology 101. “This is how they go away. They typically mutate, as well as herd immunity, to attenuate weaker strains that no longer make people so ill.”
As reported on India TV on Dec. 7, 2021, Dr. Gautam Bhansali said that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in 34 countries of the world, including India, but so far no severe symptoms or death has been seen in a single patient.
All of that leads me to my question. It appears that natural immunity is more durable and longer lasting than the COVID-19 vaccinations. That combined with the new Omicron variant which appears to be more contagious but less severe, are we on the verge of seeing the effective end of the COVID-19 pandemic by reaching herd immunity?