Herd immunity: what you need to know from UAB’s Dr. Suzanne Judd

her immunity uab suzanne judd
UAB epidemiologist Dr. Suzanne Judd speaking on herd immunity. Photo via UAB

Have you heard about herd immunity? As the US continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, hope (and vaccines) are on the way. Keep reading to learn the latest from Dr. Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at UAB, about herd immunity in the US and Alabama.

What is herd immunity

UAB vaccine
Kierstin Kennedy, M.D., UAB’s Chief of Hospital Medicine, receiving a vaccine shot. Photo via UAB Medicine’s Facebook

Herd immunity has become a buzzword recently, as the US ramps up coronavirus vaccine efforts (and pandemic fatigue only gets worse).

According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, herd immunity is

“When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or herd immunity (also called herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease.”

Gypsyamber D’Souza and David Dowdy for Johns Hopkins University

So naturally, this is something to get excited about. Herd immunity provides protection for everyone from the coronavirus (or any disease), from those who have antibodies to the virus to immunocompromised individuals who cannot get a vaccine.

Where we’re going

The first COVID vaccines arriving at UAB
The first COVID vaccines arriving at UAB on December 15. Photo via UAB

According to a study from Columbia University cited by Dr. Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at UAB’s School of Public Health, the US could reach herd immunity as early as this May or June. Right now, the goal is to have 72% of the population immune to COVID-19. In Alabama, that would amount to 3.5 million people.

But to achieve the coveted herd immunity, it takes a lot of factors working together, and Dr. Judd explained:

According to Dr. Judd:

“This number can move, but at the moment scientists are shooting for about 72% of the population with immunity. Current estimates are that we’ll see it sometime late spring early summer in Alabama… But this depends on many factors: it depends on the rate of vaccination, it depends on how many people have antibodies or immunity that didn’t have a positive test, and it depends on whether or not the virus mutates in the next few months ”

Dr. Suzanne Judd, UAB

How are we doing?

herd immunity graph UAB
This graph from Dr. Judd and UAB shows how Alabama can reach herd immunity. Graph via UAB

So how is the US, and particularly Alabama, doing with coronavirus herd immunity? Not terribly, based on data from UAB locally and other studies nationally.

Aside from an obvious increase in vaccines from the beginning of the pandemic, according to research many people early on had COVID but did not receive a positive test for the virus. Estimates show that the ratio of people who have antibodies or immunity to the virus versus people who tested positive is 10 to 1, and locally 5 to 1.

Dr. Judd explained how these numbers work in yesterday’s press conference:

“[There is] new scientific data that shows us that more people had COVID than were tested… It could be as many as 10 to 1 in terms of ten people had COVID but did not have a positive test but still have immunity to COVID… We’ve done similar tests here at UAB and we see more like 5 to one on the tests that we’ve done. [That means] roughly five individuals have antibodies that never had a positive test.”

Dr. Suzanne Judd, UAB

Keep your guard up

face shields, face masks
Nurses enthusiastically hold two thumbs up wearing masks and new face shields. Photo via Rita Goyal

But these ratios of people with coronavirus immunities and an increase in vaccinations, don’t mean we’re in the clear yet. To keep yourself and others safe, it is important to continue wearing masks and social distancing. COVID-19 really is a group effort, so make sure you’re doing your part.

In the report from UAB, Dr. Judd explained that she believes COVID-19 could become endemic in the US, meaning it could become like the seasonal flu. That makes it even more important to keep your guard up and stay safe.

Read the full report from UAB here.

And don’t forget to get tested!

While vaccines are a huge part of reaching herd immunity, coronavirus testing is just as important. Recently the FDA approved the Simplicity by Assurance Scientific Laboratories COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit for emergency use authorization.

This at-home test will make knowing if you have COVID-19 easier since you can stay at home, which also decreases your exposure to other people. Since the at-home test kit is available without a prescription, you can keep one on hand before you get sick.

Assurance Scientific Lab’s testing kit will be available for businesses and consumers through the app store within the next 30 days. Learn more about the kit here.

Catch up on the latest about vaccines in Birmingham with these recent Bham Now articles:

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Claire Hancock
Claire Hancock
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