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Austin-Travis County approaches COVID-19 herd immunity threshold

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott estimates around 70% of residents have some for of immunity to COVID-19. (Austonia staff)

Nearly half of Travis County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, as of Friday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. And an even greater portion likely have immunity.

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott estimates that around 70% of local residents have some form of immunity to COVID-19, either because they have recovered from the disease or are vaccinated. This is approaching the threshold for herd immunity.

"We're starting to approach that 70% mark of combined disease and vaccination, so we may start to see some significant changes when it comes to disease trends," he told council members and county commissioners on Tuesday.

Escott arrived at this percentage by assuming that there is no overlap between those who have had COVID and those who have been vaccinated. "While there's certainly some overlap … there does not seem to be a lot of overlap between those two," he said.

Herd immunity occurs when enough people are immune to a disease that it is unlikely for someone who contracts the disease to spread it. With no one to infect, the disease dies out.

Public health experts have said herd immunity for COVID will require around 80% of the population to be immune based on its relative infectiousness.

Although natural immunity contributes to herd immunity and is partially responsible for the sharp downturn in the number of new COVID infections in recent months, vaccination is the gold standard among experts because of the increased security it offers.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the new CDC guidance as proof of vaccines' efficacy. "Since more people will not be wearing masks, it makes it even more important to get vaccinated," he said in a statement Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's vaccine among children 12 to 15 on Monday, further expanding eligibility.


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