In spite of pauses and delays in vaccine approvals for several vaccines and large inequities in availability, in April the world made marked improvement in the distribution and administration of Covid-19 vaccines. Nevertheless, troubling signs are cropping up indicating that the biggest vaccination campaign in history is in danger of failing to reach the ultimate goals of national, regional and worldwide herd immunity not because we can’t but because we don’t want to.

Current Vaccine Statistics

Through May 2, 2021, more than 1.17 billion vaccine doses have been given out across 174 countries. The latest global rate was just over 21 million doses per day. One month ago, the worldwide rate was only 16.2 million doses per day.

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Enough doses have now been administered to fully vaccinate 7.7% of the global population — but the distribution has been lopsided. The 27 wealthiest countries account for 36% of the vaccinations. Visit the tracker to see the status of every country.

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In the U.S. 247 million doses have been administered. The latest seven-day average is 2.3 million doses. In the last week of March, the U.S. average daily rate was just over 3 million doses per day. Enough vaccines have been given to vaccinate 38.4% of the U.S. population.  148 million Americans, 57.2% of the adult population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine. At least 106 million people have completed a vaccination regimen.

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The rate at which vaccines are being administered varies greatly by state and region. The New England and northeastern states are vaccinating their populations at the highest rates. Vermont leads with 49% of the population covered. “Population covered” equals the doses administered for each vaccine type divided by the number of doses required for full vaccination.

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States in the Southeastern U.S. are presently doing the worst at getting people vaccinated. Mississippi and Alabama bring up the rear with only 27.5% vaccinated. Florida’s rate probably benefits from a higher proportion of senior citizens who are most at risk and are most likely to want to be vaccinated.

Will Vaccines Defeat Covid-19

At current rates, it would take years to vaccinate a meaningful portion of Earth’s population of 7.8 billion. Worldwide, the rate of vaccination will continue to increase as new vaccines are approved, production ramps up, and less wealthy countries gain access to vaccine supplies.

To reach the point where the virus is no longer able to spread within a population because of herd immunity — the pre-existing immunity of a high proportion of individuals as a result of previous infection or vaccination — U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Faucci estimates that 75% – 85% of a population would need to be vaccinated.

At current rates, reaching herd immunity would take years for the world and three months for the U.S.. It’s a life-and-death race between vaccines and virus. New virus strains threaten renewed outbreaks for which current vaccines may not be as effective.

Furthermore, there is the potential problem of the duration of vaccine efficacy. Scientists do not know how long the vaccines are good for. If the protection lasts only a year or less, Covid-19 is likely here to stay. Inoculating 75% of 7.8 billion people every year is a task that seems beyond our capabilities.

In time, higher vaccination rates should limit the Covid-19 burden around the world. There is some evidence of that in the U.S. statistics. Covid rates generally declined as the number of U.S. vaccinations increased.

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In the U.S. vaccine supplies exceed demand, and the daily rate of vaccinations has dropped. There is a significant portion of the population that has said they won’t get vaccinated. Republicans make up the largest segment of the U.S. population most likely to say that they will not try to get a vaccine. According to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS on April 29, 2021, almost half of Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated, compared with 28% of independents and 8% of Democrats. Within Republicans, resistance to vaccines is concentrated among the young. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents ages 50 and older, 66% have gotten a vaccine or are willing to get one, but among those younger than 50, 57% say they will not get a vaccine.

Those who are unwilling to get a vaccine are the group that is most comfortable with the idea of returning to their regular routines. Nearly nine out of 10 of them say they’re comfortable with returning, or have already returned, to their old routines. That compares with 63% among those who haven’t gotten vaccinated but plan to, and 58% among those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The low rates of vaccination in Republican leaning states seems to bear out the conclusions of the CNN poll.

Where Do We Go From Here

I’m no epidemiologist and I don’t even play one on TV. Nevertheless, my two cents is that reaching the goal of herd immunity in the U.S. and other places afflicted with large segments of the population who are vaccine hesitant will require offering benefits to vaccinated people that the unvaccinated won’t have. Proof of vaccination could be used to allow near capacity indoor dining, attendance at sporting events and other performances, and vaccine passports could be used to allow travel with little or no quarantine.

While getting vaccinated or not is a personal decision, I’m comfortable in withholding certain benefits from those who choose to remain unvaccinated. The cost and effort governments, citizens and businesses invested in attempting to reach herd immunity and return safely to normal pre-pandemic life and the costs and hassles of being required to continue Covid-19 safety measures indefinitely outweigh any harm to people who are unvaccinated voluntarily.

Final Thoughts

The progress of the fight against Covid-19 shows that, with a few breaks along the way, vaccines are the way to win the war against the virus. Vaccines, however, are only effective if people choose to take them. It would be a humanitarian and economic catastrophe if we have a safe and easy method to beat Covid-19 but fail to do so because a significant segment of the population sees no personal benefit to it.

These are my thoughts. Please share your perspective on vaccines, herd immunity, and the benefits, if any, of allowing vaccinated people to enjoy certain privileges that unvaccinated folks don’t have. Thanks!

All charts are from the May 3, 2021 Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker