Dr. Fauci Warns This Plan for Ending COVID Is Now "Unattainable"

This idea was once discussed at length, but is no longer possible in 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a primary topic of conversation for over two years now. The entire world has faced the repercussions of the virus, but with the introduction of vaccines and booster shots, we've made significant progress toward finally returning to normal. At the same time, some of our hopes for what the world could one day look like have become more and more unlikely. Now, one plan for ending the pandemic is being called "unattainable." Read on to learn what virus experts say will now never happen.

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Dr. Fauci said herd immunity is no longer a solution for COVID.

dr. fauci at press briefing over first omicron case in U.S.

Throughout the pandemic, the concept of "herd immunity" was discussed as a possible way to protect the population by lowering community circulation levels. Herd immunity is achieved when a certain percentage of the population becomes immune following vaccination or natural infection—leaving the virus with nowhere to go. The term was a source of controversy at the height of the pandemic, with some health officials and experts encouraging the idea of herd immunity as a way to return to normal, MarketWatch reported.

Now, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has penned an article alongside two other NIAID officials, which states that "classical" herd immunity for COVID "almost certainly is an unattainable goal." In the article, published March 31 in the Oxford Academic Journal of Infectious Diseases, Fauci and his coauthors suggest rather than reaching this threshold, we will adjust to living with the presence of COVID. This will involve "optimizing population protection without prohibitive restrictions on our daily lives," the article states.

New COVID variants and their ability to "escape immunity" make achieving herd immunity very difficult.

A doctor performing a nasal swab for a COVID test on a senior man

The threshold for herd immunity has been met for both polio and measles in the U.S., but these viruses have phenotypic stability, meaning they stay the same, as opposed to COVID. Herd immunity for the new virus could be "elusive," the virus experts write, as COVID continually mutates into new variants. These variants are then able to evade immunity that people have otherwise developed thanks to previous infection or vaccination.

If strains continue to mutate and immunity from prior and infections and vaccines is only temporary, the viral transmission of COVID could continue indefinitely. According to the NIAID article, this may be on a "low endemic level," much like we see with seasonal flu outbreaks—which actually began with the 1918 pandemic influenza virus. Like the flu virus, immunity to COVID and other respiratory viruses "is a fluid concept," these experts say. People can either have durable immunity that fully protects them or immunity that prevents serious disease, but not prevention or transmission to others.

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After two years of COVID circulation, there is a high level of background population immunity.

A young man wearing a protective face mask while sitting in his office

According to experts, herd immunity may not even be necessary. "We no longer need the elusive concept of 'herd immunity' as an aspirational goal," the NIAID article reads. "COVID-19 control is already within our grasp."

The authors cite "background population immunity" to COVID, which has reached high levels after two years of living with the virus, as well as the introduction of vaccines and boosters. New antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies have also been helpful as countermeasures, as well as diagnostic tests.

Surges will rise and fall, with the decline of the recent Omicron surge leading the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) to lift certain restrictions. Now cases appear to be on the rise again in some parts of the country, Fauci stated in an April 1 Yahoo Finance Live Broadcast, but we will need to wait to see if the relaxation of restrictions will have a significant impact on COVID numbers.

The FDA is also considering updating existing vaccines.

Mid adult woman in medical face mask getting Covid-19 vaccine at doctor's office.

Fauci and his coauthors note the potential of new vaccines to provide immunity against multiple variants. This coincides with a meeting scheduled for April 6, where the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will evaluate the effectiveness of existing COVID vaccines. According to a briefing from the FDA, they may need to be updated to protect against new and emerging strains.

"Although a complete understanding of how emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants impact the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines is lacking, the accumulating data suggest that the composition of vaccines may need to be updated at some point to ensure the high level of efficacy demonstrated in the early vaccine clinical trials," the briefing reads.

In addition to this, the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will discuss how frequently vaccines need to be evaluated, how to implement a formal process for vaccine strain selection, and the ideal timing for booster doses.

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