Sound Publishing file photo
Remi Frederick, a Village Green employee, receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 26 in Federal Way.

Sound Publishing file photo Remi Frederick, a Village Green employee, receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 26 in Federal Way.

County health officer looks to community immunity instead of herd immunity

Herd immunity may be unlikely to reach King County anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that people living in the county won’t be able to resume something similar to a pre-pandemic life sooner.

That’s according to Jeff Duchin, the county’s public health officer, who in a press conference on April 30 said he’s focusing on reaching community immunity instead. The rundown is basically this: herd immunity means COVID-19 can’t spread effectively from person to person across the population because enough people have immunity, either from a vaccine or natural infection.

It sounds ideal, but most experts think that to reach herd immunity — long the stated end goal of curtailing the pandemic — some 80% to 90% of people must be vaccinated or previously infected. That’s likely to remain a far-off goal, considering that only 38.9% of Washingtonians ages 16 and older have been fully vaccinated as of May 5. And with vaccine skepticism rippling across the country, it’s unclear when or if the U.S. will reach herd immunity.

There are currently no vaccines approved for use in children, and teens ages 12 to 15 have yet to receive vaccines after the Pfizer shot was approved last month for this age range. Duchin said considering 20% of the population is children, it’s unlikely herd immunity could be reached just from that barrier alone.

Despite this, Duchin said King County could reach community immunity if at least 70% of people receive vaccines or have already been infected, allowing their bodies to produce antibodies.

“If we get to 70%, we have 70% coverage,” Duchin said during the press conference. “We have 70% community immunity. That’s a substantial level of protection. The higher level of protection we have, the less disease we will have, and the more likely it is we’ll be able to re-engage in our pre-COVID lifestyles.”

There’s also the problem of new variants emerging that could be more infectious. Already, there are several variants circulating worldwide and in Washington state that are transmitted more easily. These include variants that initially emerged in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and California.

Even with these concerns, Duchin said the county doesn’t have to reach herd immunity to resume life in a way similar to before COVID-19. Undertaking measures like improving ventilation in buildings, being cautious during face to face interactions and wearing masks in high-risk situations could be ways to help ease back into normal life while staying safe.

Duchin made it clear he can’t predict what the future holds, or how the virus and countermeasures will evolve over the course of years. The situation globally is also of concern because the virus can easily travel from country to country. If the virus is uncontrolled anywhere, it can allow new variants to emerge that can threaten people locally. Because of this, Duchin said the U.S. has a strong interest in making sure there’s a robust vaccine supply everywhere in the world.

In King County, a fourth wave of the pandemic has been ongoing since early March as cases increased. Gov. Jay Inslee on May 4 announced that no counties would be moving phases for two weeks under the Roadmap to Recovery plan. The two-week pause will allow public health officials time to see whether cases have hit a plateau, or if they will continue to rise.

“We are at the intersection of progress and failure, and we cannot veer from the path of progress,” Inslee said in a press release on May 4. “Our economy is beginning to show early signs of growth thanks to some of our great legislative victories and we know vaccines are the ticket to further reopening — if we adhere to public health until enough people are vaccinated.”

Vaccines are available to all Washingtonians ages 16 and up. Appointments can be found at VaccineLocator.doh.wa.gov.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

NW Carpenters Union members strike in front of downtown Bellevue construction site (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
Carpenters union strike interupts some prominent Eastside construction projects

Union representative says members are prepared to strike “as long as it takes.”

Map of proposed landfill expansion sites (screenshot from King County website)
Waste management expert knocks county’s plan to expand landfill

The waste management advocate said the decision to expand seems pre-determined despite assessment.

Participants in fundraiser previous event (courtesy of Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter)
Walk To End Alzheimer’s returns to Eastside on Sept. 25

Alzheimer’s Association moves forward with plans for an in-person event.

file photo
State employees including first responders sue state over vaccine mandate

The lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 90 plaintiffs claims Inslee’s order is unconstitutional.

Masked spectators watch Mount Si’s Sept. 10 football game against Yelm High School. Photo Courtesy of Calder Productions.
Snoqualmie Valley schools deal with COVID cases, staffing shortages

Enrollment numbers rose as students in the Snoqualmie Valley School District successfully… Continue reading

North Bend City Council. 	Courtesy photo
North Bend limits restrictions on low-income housing

The North Bend City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Sept. 7 in… Continue reading

Cars lined up at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital on March 26, 2021, as people awaited their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as part of the hospital’s first mass vaccination event. File Photo contributed by Snoqualmie Valley Hospital.
Valley COVID case rates decrease, but remain high

COVID-19 case rates across the Snoqualmie Valley decreased in some areas over… Continue reading

Pixabay photo
Union carpenters to go on strike, expected to impact Eastside Microsoft projects

Members authorized strike after rejecting AGC offer for the fourth time.

Most Read