Endemic vs. Herd Immunity: How Close Are We to Reaching the End of the Pandemic?

South Florida-based infectious disease specialists say herd immunity at this point in the pandemic is unlikely

NBC Universal, Inc.

With the omicron variant spreading rapidly throughout the United States and South Florida, some are wondering whether "herd immunity" could help end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Herd immunity is defined as the indirect protection of an infectious disease that happens when the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, or has developed immunity through previous infection.

According to Mayo Clinic, 65.2% of the state's population is fully vaccinated. Florida's seven-day moving average for daily cases has risen to over 50,000 in recent days, after it had dropped below 1,300 as recently as last month.

Although more people are being infected with COVID-19, South Florida-based infectious disease specialists say achieving herd immunity at this point in the pandemic is unlikely.

"We still get some cellular defense cells that will help us out but I don’t know for sure it will be enough to create the herd immunity we’re always talking about," said Dr. Paula Eckardt, chief of infectious disease at Memorial Healthcare System.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University, touched on virus mutation and how that impacts immunity.

“If you think that simply spreading something that’s this dangerous is a way out of this problem, you’re forgetting how this particular virus operates. How quickly it mutates when it’s spreading at these rates, and over time as you lose the immunity," she said.

Others are theorizing that the pandemic will end in an "endemic."

According to the WHO, an "endemic" is a disease that's consistently present, but limited to a particular area.

Disease spread and rates are predictable. Malaria is a good example.

“It will stay with us and we will see cases, people that will get very severely sick, but not as widespread as we see it now,“ said Dr. Eckardt.

It's likely that sometime down the road, COVID-19 will go from a pandemic to an endemic.

But doctors say life will be forever changed.

“What folks want is just reassurance that things will go back to exactly the way they were before COVID and it’s not going to be Iike that, it’s not going to be that world," said Dr. Rossana Rosa, infectious diseases specialist.

"The measures we take when we gather, how we protect those around us that have risk factors for severe disease, all those things are going to stay there, so it is a different world.”

Contact Us