Here's How Many People Still Need The Vaccine To End The Pandemic

It's almost hard to believe that one entire year has passed since COVID-19 entered the commonplace lexicon. One year since wearing masks outside and in stores became part of your every day routine. One year since schools and many workplaces closed up shop and started functioning at a reduced or virtual-only capacity. The pandemic has changed so much of what our lives used to be and many are trying to stay afloat with the hope that it will all be over soon. Which leads to the question — when will the pandemic really be over?

Since the early days, we have heard scientists and physicians talk about SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, becoming endemic like influenza. This means that the virus will likely never be completely eradicated but circulate in society much like the yearly flu strains. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and virology and immunology expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia tells The Atlantic, "The question is not when do we eliminate the virus in the country, but instead how can we effectively keep the virus under control." In terms of when the virus will be more under control, better managed and essentially "over,"  Offit claims, "the doors will open" when the U.S. sees numbers fall to 5,000 new cases a day, and fewer than 100 deaths. For reference, there were nearly 72,000 new cases and over 2,300 COVID-related deaths on one particular day in February 2021. 

Where the U.S. stands on vaccinations

But with the recent increase in vaccinations across the country, there is hope that we are headed in the right direction. There are roughly 330 million Americans and Anthony Fauci, M.D., the nation's leading infectious disease specialist, has repeatedly said that good herd immunity can be achieved if 70 to 85 percent of the population gets vaccinated (via NPR). That means at least 231 million Americans need to be fully vaccinated before the U.S. can approach herd immunity. So where do we stand today?

As of February 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that at least 65 million Americans have received at least one dose, almost 20 million of which are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In simpler terms, six percent of the population is fully vaccinated, which is a far cry from the numbers necessary to start bringing some semblance of normalcy back to our lives.

But formally declaring the pandemic to be over is tricky. While the World Health Organization will have its own determinants to guide an official declaration, individual countries and states can determine for themselves when it's safe to reopen economies, schools, and office buildings. The U.S. is currently administering 1.45 million vaccines per day, and at this current rate, The New York Times projects that 70 percent of the population will be vaccinated by November 2021 and 90 percent by this time next year. While it may seem like a long time off, experts are encouraged by where we are in the process. If we can just hang on a little longer, things may improve sooner than we think.