PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Now that Florida has opened up COVID-19 vaccines to all adults, many of you are wondering what it will take for us to reach herd immunity and when enough of the population will be vaccinated in order to eliminate the virus.
Lowell Atkinson happily got his COVID-19 vaccine in Largo. “I’ve been waiting to get the vaccine from like day one,” he said.
Yet, for every person like Lowell Atkinson, there are others who aren’t as certain like Pinellas County resident Nancy Williams. “What if it makes me feel worse? What if I get sick from it because I already did have COVID and I’ve got the antibodies in me? There are too many unknowns for this girl,” Williams explained adding that she hasn’t made up her mind and wants to see more testing and time go by before she opts in to getting vaccinated.
Local doctors say a bare minimum of 70% of the population would need to get the vaccine to reach herd immunity, but 85% would be a safer bet. That would mean more than 18 million Floridians would need to opt in. Doctors say reaching herd immunity relies on one key factor: Making sure there’s a wide range of people vaccinated across all age groups.
ABC Action News went straight to the experts to find out if that’s even possible. Dr. Matthew Weissenbach of Wolters Kluwer Health thinks it is. “I do think we can get there. Pace has picked up dramatically in recent weeks,” he added.
However, Dr. John Sinnott, an epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital isn’t as confident. “I think it’s going to be hard because when I look at the data 35-40% of the population doesn’t think they need to be vaccinated or should be vaccinated,” he elaborated.
Both doctors agree the greater problem isn’t access to the vaccine, but misinformation.
“I think it’s going to be one of the greatest barriers. It’s not a medical problem, it’s a social problem,” Sinott said.
If most Floridians opt in for the shot, experts at USF say we could reach herd immunity by late July, but they worry if the pandemic draws out much further, variants of the virus will become a bigger concern.
“It’s really a race against time to only limit the widespread community transmission but we really don’t know how these vaccines will behave long term,” Weissenbach explained.
Williams hopes more research will help guide her decision on whether to get the vaccine. “I just want to wait until it’s tested a little more. I’m not saying I won’t. I’m not saying I will. I’m just thinking it over.”