A return to normal — meaning life without social distancing and masks — seemed within reach at the end of spring.
When Spectrum News spoke with Dr. Monica Gandhi in early June, the infectious disease physician was urging schools to consider allowing children to return in the fall wearing masks, saying all that was needed was for the adults around them to be vaccinated.
Then came the highly contagious delta variant, and the realization that many adults weren’t getting inoculated.
Now, Dr. Gandhi, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, says before we’ll see “normal” again, kids will need to be vaccinated too, and must continue masking until that happens.
“Unfortunately, delta, I think, really changed the equation for children and for the country, and it’s just so much more highly transmissible that we didn’t have the levels of immunity in our population to keep others safe. Meaning we need higher and higher levels,” Dr. Gandhi said.
But Dr. Gandhi says a return to normal is now finally in sight, in part because the FDA may soon authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for younger children – and because the delta variant is essentially forcing higher levels of immunity throughout the population.
Although ‘normal’ is nearly here, she says, it is at a much higher cost than anyone wanted to pay.
“I think delta will be the variant to end them all.” “The most painful way to get immunity is natural infection, the painful and unfortunately sometimes deadly way.
But [even] if we don’t get our vaccination rates up, I think by the end of this year we will have enough immunity in our population, either through vaccination and natural infection,” Dr. Gandhi said. “I think delta will be the variant to end them all.”
Particularly because history shows that disruptive viruses eventually peter out. “Usually, if you develop too many mutations, the virus actually becomes weaker as opposed to stronger. It’s sort of evolutionary biology,” Dr. Gandhi added.
Again, these are predictions, if we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic – it’s that anything can happen.
Has the U.S. reached ‘herd immunity’?
Herd immunity is when a sufficient amount of the population is immune or protected against a disease.
After a 20-month roller coaster of surging and ebbing coronavirus transmission, and more than 65 percent of those 12 and older fully vaccinated, many are asking the question, aren’t we there yet?
While Gandhi and other experts we spoke to say the country is nearly there, the nation’s leaders tasked with guiding the country out of the pandemic won’t answer the question.
“You know when you are at herd immunity when the virus doesn’t have an opportunity to go from person to person.
But right now, we don’t know what that number is,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing last week.
“And when you don’t know what the number is, what do you do? You vaccinate as many people as you possibly can, as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can.
That’s what we should be concentrating on, not any particular number,” Dr. Fauci added.
Vaccines have proven very effective in offering protection. Even among those who were infected after vaccination, referred to as so-called “breakthrough” cases, the vast majority are protected against serious illness and death.
But some research is showing that the protection offered through natural immunity shouldn’t be disregarded.
A study of workforce screenings that took place before the delta variant took hold, released coronavirus testing company Curative, found that those who recovered from natural SARS-CoV-2 infections produced decent protection against reinfection.
Researchers say there was no significant difference in the incidence of infection between those who were previously infected and people who were vaccinated.
In fact, there were zero reinfections among the 254 patients who had prior infections, compared with four “breakthrough” cases in the vaccinated group of 739 patients.
Researchers concluded that their findings “should provide increased confidence that those previously infected are at very low risk for repeat infections.”