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What Percentage Of People Need To Be Vaccinated To Reach Herd Immunity?

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- For all the progress in getting people vaccinated against COVID-19, about 40% of Americans remain hesitant about getting the shot. That's from a recent CBS News poll.

It had us wondering, what percentage of people vaccinated must we hit to reach herd immunity? And what happens if we don't reach that number? Good Question. Jeff Wagner learned the answer is a work in progress.

While out on a stroll around Lake Como, friends Darnell Steppan and Heather Doarn carried an air of confidence knowing they've been fully vaccinated.

"But I still mask up. I mean it's a respect thing," said Steppan.

"I went into the grocery store for the first time in a year yesterday," added Doarn.

Those ladies are two of the roughly 140 million Americans who took a shot in the arm to fight COVID-19.

That's about 42% of the country, an achievement in itself, but still far from the lofty goals medical experts are setting.

What is that target number for herd immunity?

"You know what, no one really knows that number," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "At this point, many of us believe that that number is close to 100%, something that probably isn't achievable."

A CBS News poll found 40% of people aren't sure if they'll get vaccinated, citing concerns about side effects, wanting to take a "wait and see" approach given the speed at which the vaccines were released and lack of trust in the government.

Is there a number where people can expect things to somewhat feel normal again?

"There is no one number," said Osterholm. "Just a change in the variants from what the old virus has looked like to what they are now, substantially changes the number of people who would have to be vaccinated in your community to actually slow down transmission."

The Minnesota Department of Health agrees with his assessment, however it did set a target at 80% in the state.

"If we have 80% of the population vaccinated and we still have a lot of transmission, we may need to adapt but at this point, that's the goal that we've set forth right now," said Kris Ehresmann, MDH director of infectious disease.

That number could not only slow the spread of the virus, but create hope that life can return to pre-COVID days.

"I don't like wearing a mask when I'm working out. It's super hard. So that would be something I would be looking forward to would be at your station and not have wear a mask," said Steppan of restrictions she'd like to see lifted if a majority of Minnesotans get vaccinated.

What happens if we don't hit 80%?

"I think we'll have to wait to see where people are at. But the more people that get vaccinated, the less chance we have of transmission," Ehresmann said.

"And that's what, in the end, is gonna give us an opportunity for a more normal everyday life," added Osterholm.

Even if Minnesota and the rest of the country surpass 80% vaccination, Osterholm still has a grim reminder.

"This virus is not gonna go away, not now or anytime soon. Just like influenza doesn't go away," he said.

With vaccine accessibility only increasing, MDH officials say young adults, who've been holding off on getting a shot to ensure at-risk people get one first, no longer have to wait. They're also focusing efforts to bring the vaccine to people versus expecting them to drive across the state.

"We've got people now who [will say], 'I'll get it, but I'm not gonna drive to Brainerd to get a vaccine.' And that's completely reasonable and I think we're at the place now where we can adapt," said Ehresmann.

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