Fauci shifts herd immunity goalposts, now says as much as 90% may be needed to halt coronavirus


Top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has appeared to shift his stance on what percentage of the U.S. population needs to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order for the country to reach herd immunity.

Herd immunity is when a large percentage of a specific population becomes immune to a virus; immunity can happen naturally or by way of vaccines to prevent viral infections like the flu and COVID-19. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday that between 70% and 90% of the U.S. population would need to get inoculated (or vaccinated) against COVID-19 in order for the country to reach herd immunity. 

Fauci indicated that he based his shifting statements on public polling on the popularity of coronavirus vaccines.

“When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” Fauci said. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

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He continued: “We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I’m not going to say 90 percent.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gestures after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

His comments appear to be in contrast with some of his previous statements regarding herd immunity against COVID-19.

Fauci previously told Fox News’ “The Story” on Dec. 3 that the United States could reach herd immunity if 70% of the population gets a COVID-19 vaccine.

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“The estimate is that you’ll need about 70%, maybe 75%, of the people in the country vaccinated to get that umbrella of herd immunity that will get us really on the road, very close, to being normal.”

In a Dec. 17 interview with CNBC, however, Fauci said that between 75% and 85% of the population will need to get inoculated against COVID-19 and create an “umbrella,” according to the outlet.

“That would be able to protect even the vulnerables who have not been vaccinated, or those in which the vaccine has not been effective,” Fauci said.

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About 1 million vaccines have been distributed so far, representing about 0.3% of the country’s population of about 331 million. Meanwhile, about 18.5 million Americans have tested positive for the virus, or more than 5% of the population.

The administration is planning to deliver about 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of the year.

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Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marty Makary told “The Story” on Monday that the country could reach herd immunity if only 20% to 25% of the population gets vaccinated by March “to really hit those 70% herd immunity levels.”



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