Will pediatric vaccines get us to herd immunity in Austin-Travis County? We asked UT modelers

Coronavirus

Syringes loaded with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine lie ready for use by a nurse, in Jackson, Miss., on Sept. 21, 2021. The Food and Drug Administration has paved the way for children ages 5 to 11 to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The agency authorized the kid-size doses on Friday, Oct. 29. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — U.S. health officials gave the green light for kid-size Pfizer COVID-19 shots to be given to people ages 5 to 11 Tuesday night. With more people in our community able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, our path to herd immunity has certainly sped up.

But will it be enough to get us all the way to herd immunity? We took that question to Dr. Spencer Fox, associate director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, who said herd immunity is much more difficult to define and achieve as health experts may have previously thought.

“When we think of herd immunity, I think now it’s a moving target, and it’s really a race between our immunity against the evolution of the variant or of the variants,” Fox said.

While both national and local health leaders have previously said herd immunity would be roughly 70% of the community fully protected against COVID-19, that number has gone up and been more difficult to define as variants prove to be more aggressive than their predecessors.

What the ability to vaccinate more people will do is help curb transmission in schools and our community, Fox predicts.

“We’ve done some projections for the City of Austin from looking at the impact this will have and what we find is that this reduces community transmission risk across the board,” he said. Fox notes as we head into the winter months, where we saw a large surge in 2020, this could reduce our risk of seeing that spike again this year.

Projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, which taps into a collection of outside modeling groups to project what four months forward in the pandemic could look like, show childhood vaccinations will indeed help curb another large spike, even if a new variant emerges.

“Overall what their results suggest is that it’s likely that childhood vaccinations will help prevent a major surge,” Fox said.

While herd immunity may not be the benchmark goal at this point in the pandemic because of new variants, the more people in our community who are vaccinated, regardless of age, the better, Fox says.

“From what we’ve seen over the past few months around the world and in the U.S. as well, young kids and unvaccinated people in general are really driving a lot of the transmission and are driving many of the case numbers,” Fox said. “Our ability to vaccinate children 5 to 11 will be really important for reducing transmission in schools and then in our communities as well.”

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