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KPBS Midday Edition

Is herd immunity still possible? CDC messaging suggests not

An employee of the Imperial County Public Health Department receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18, 2020.
Imperial County
An employee of the Imperial County Public Health Department receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18, 2020.

When the pandemic began, leading health officials had hoped that herd immunity would provide a clear path back to normality.

The idea is that when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a disease, it becomes harder to spread.

The goal seems simple, but when a large portion of the population refuses to get immunized, or when available vaccines can't reliably halt transmission, that goal becomes increasingly murky.

Recently, the CDC has moved away from messaging that touts herd immunity as a national goal for the U.S. - signaling a distinct shift in the future of the fight against COVID-19.

Rebecca Fielding-Miller, epidemiologist and UC San Diego professor, says that Americans overestimated herd immunity at the beginning of the pandemic.

"I think in the early days, we really confused the idea of herd immunity with elimination or eradication — so COVID was never going to be eliminated through vaccination," Fielding-Miller said.

She joined Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on how public health messaging has changed in light of herd immunity's dwindling prospects.