What role do COVID-19 vaccinations and natural infections play in reaching ‘herd immunity’

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — The state health department, DHEC, said South Carolina could reach herd immunity for COVID-19 once 70 to 80% of the population has immunity.

People can develop immunity through vaccinations or recovering from natural infection. When enough people are immune the virus does not spread as easily in the community DHEC said.

As of Monday afternoon, DHEC said 32% or 1.3 million South Carolinians are fully vaccinated.

Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said there is still a lot of work left to be done. She said, “We’re still a long way from having enough people vaccinated to feel we can let up the mitigation efforts.”

The Medical University of South Carolina has been studying immunity for COVID-19 in South Carolina. Doctors estimate about 65% of the state’s population has immunity right now.

Dr. Kelly said, “The MUSC study is interesting, it’s encouraging, but we’re not done. We’re a long way from being done with this virus.”

Dr. Kelly also said vaccine supply is outpacing demand right now in South Carolina. She said vaccinations are key to reaching the 70-80% herd immunity threshold.

Dr. Jennifer Grier is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Immunology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. She said immunity from natural infection does provide protection for quite some time.

“If you had a strong antibody response to the infection, there’s probably protection for 8 months at least, probably going on for much longer,” she said. Dr. Grier added immunity protection from natural infection can be unpredictable.

The only way to know if you have immunity is by checking for antibodies through an antibody tests.

She said immunity from the vaccine is much more reliable and studies show protection lasts for at least 8 months as well.

Dr. Greir said, “In the interest of not making an assumption and being wrong, in my mind it makes sense to do the right thing that gives you guaranteed protection and that’s the vaccine.”

She said people who have been infected should consider getting the vaccine. Vaccination after infection produces more antibodies. It better protects you and those around you.

For more information from state health officials on the COVID-19 vaccine and appointments, click or tap here.

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