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Is Omicron bringing us closer to herd immunity against COVID?

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Experts say the highly transmissible variant – or any other variant – is unlikely to lead to herd immunity.

“Herd immunity is an elusive concept and does not apply to the coronavirus,” says Dr. Don Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Herd immunity occurs when enough of a population is immune to a virus that it is difficult for the germ to spread to those who are not protected by vaccination or previous infection.

For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a community to be immune. Early hopes of herd immunity against the coronavirus have faded for several reasons.


The first is that antibodies developed from available vaccines or past infections decline over time. While vaccines offer strong protection against serious illnesses, the decline in antibodies means it’s still possible to get infected, even for those who are boosted.

Then there is the huge variation in vaccinations. In some low-income countries, less than 5% of the population is vaccinated. Rich countries are grappling with vaccine hesitancy. And young children are still not eligible in many places.

As the virus spreads, it mutates, helping the virus to survive and giving rise to new variants. These mutants — like omicron — can better evade the protection people have from vaccines or previous infection.

Populations are moving towards “collective resistance,” where infections will continue, but people have enough protection that future spikes won’t be as disruptive to society, Milton says.

Many scientists believe that COVID-19 will eventually become like the flu and cause seasonal epidemics, but not huge outbreaks.

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The AP answers your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them to: [email protected] Learn more here:

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