Vaccine Tracker: What’s the risk if we don’t hit herd immunity?

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 9:17 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - On this edition of the Vaccine Tracker, we’re looking into what it means for society and healthcare if we don’t reach herd immunity. Also, looking at a united approach from leaders to pass along the message of getting vaccinated in Elkhart County.

First, this is the percentage of each county ages 16+ that are fully vaccinated in each Michiana County (numbers are from the Indiana and Michigan State dashboards):

Michiana Fully Vaccinated Percentage 5-5-21. 

Ages 16+.
Michiana Fully Vaccinated Percentage 5-5-21. Ages 16+.(WNDU)

All of the Michiana counties combined are at 32.5% fully vaccinated. That is still a very long way away from herd immunity.

So, what if we don’t achieve immunity what does that mean for getting back to normal? Also, what does it mean for the safety of our communities?

Health leaders I have spoken with during the vaccine roll-out seem to agree that if you don’t get the vaccine you will need to get immunity from COVID-19. However, if people are not getting vaccinated that could mean COVID-19 continues to work its way around the country. That means restrictions and mitigations strategies will likely continue such as mask wearing, strict sanitation practices, social distancing, venue capacity limitations, events being cancelled, and other mitigation strategies and restrictions that exist where you live. A reminder, these restrictions can come from federal, state, and local governments.

What about health safety? If we don’t hit herd immunity what is the risk? Well, if you don’t get vaccinated, you’ll have to achieve immunity through contracting COVID-19. That comes with obvious risks to your health and life.

It is also not well understood how long immunity from COVID-19 last after vaccination. So the longer-term risk to everyone that has been vaccinated, if COVID-19 is still spreading, remains to be seen. To add more risk, the COVID-19 variants continue to spread, and we know the Indian variant is in Michigan at this point.

Health officials all around Michiana have told me on previous versions of the Vaccine Tracker that getting vaccinated and achieving herd immunity in our communities could end the pandemic sooner than later and get things back to normal.

Achieving herd immunity will also lessen the burden on our healthcare workers.

“This is utterly exhausting to healthcare teams across the state and including at Spectrum Health Lakeland. We have been fighting so hard and so long against this virus that, in-fact around the country, healthcare workers are just burning out from the constant stress and the constant tension of taking care of very sick people with this disease, and losing too many with this disease,” Loren Hamel, President at Spectrum Health Lakeland says.

In Michigan, they’re working to get people at least one dose of the vaccine to get closer to some herd immunity. Here the Berrien County Health Department discusses the progress in getting people at least one dose.

“It’s definitely slower progress. It’s taken us four months to get to 46%, it might another few months to get another 10% of our population. I do not predict that we as a state are going to get to 55% in the next month,” Nicki Britten, Berrien County Health Officer says. “As we are adjusting our strategies as healthcare providers in Berrien County to get vaccines to where people are instead of expecting people to come to us that’s going to help accelerate.”

As for Elkhart, here is the information they released today on sending a united message to citizens to get the vaccine:

“Elkhart County, Indiana (May 5, 2021) – Today, Dr. Bethany Wait, Elkhart County Health Officer, announced a county-wide leadership push to encourage citizens of all ages to receive their free COVID-19 vaccination.

“We’re all looking forward to the day when we can get back to our everyday routines,” said Wait. “We can only do that when more of us have been vaccinated. That’s what we’re trying to tell everyone with this leadership push. ‘Let’s get vaccinated so we can resume our everyday lives.’”

County Commissioners Suzie Weirick and Frank Lucchese reflect the same sentiment in videos and audio clips shared today. “I’ve always said that I love where I live, and you should live where you love,” added Weirick. “And the best way to do that is to take care of everyone.”

When it comes to hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Elkhart County, things have changed a lot in the past couple of months. “It’s not the number of people who’re getting the virus,” comments Lucchese. “It’s the number of people that need to be vaccinated to help stop the virus.”

“Almost all of the hospitalized COVID patients in Elkhart County right now, are local citizens who didn’t get a vaccination,” added Dr. Wait. “That tells us a lot. The vaccines work. And it’s why we’re asking local media to help us get the message out. With their help, we can get the majority of our citizens vaccinated and then move on with our lives.”

In one of the videos, Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson, takes his face mask off and encourages others to get their vaccinations so that we can get back to the things we love about life in Elkhart County. “If we want to get all of our events open and going again, all we need to do is get vaccinated,’ says Roberson. “Let’s do it. Let’s all get vaccinated.”

Goshen Mayor, Jeremy Stutsman echoes Mayor Roberson’s sentiment. “Please go out and get your vaccine so that we can get past this and move on with the things we love to do in our normal day-to-day lives,” says Stutsman.”

We’ll continue to keep an eye on the vaccination rollout, and I want to hear from you. Email me at or find me on Facebook and send a message if you have an issue or idea of something we can dig into on the Vaccine Tracker.

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