If there’s one holy grail in the world right now it’s the COVID-19 vaccine. Governments and private institutions the globe over are pouring billions into finding a cure that could help life return to normal. Needless to say, a vaccine wouldn’t just help protect people’s health, it would also have far-reaching economic consequences.
The problem is, the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine might not be the cure-all people hope for—at least in America. And sitting down with CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen for the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Dr. Anthony Fauci explained why.
Fauci explained that no vaccine in human history has ever had 100% effectivity rate, which means it prevents everyone who receives the vaccine from catching the disease it’s designed to protect against. Fauci pointed out that the most successful vaccine as far as effectiveness goes is the measles vaccine, which protects between 97% and 98% of everyone who receive it. The annual flu vaccine, on the other hand, only protects between 40% to 60% of the people who get it.
As for a COVID-19 vaccine, Fauci says he would be happy if it had an effectivity rate of 70% to 75%. Even though 25% to 30% of people who got the vaccine would still be able to be infected by COVID-19, a 70% to 75% effectivity rate would be enough to produce herd immunity in most locales. Herd immunity is where enough people in a given community are immune to a disease that it makes it very hard for that disease to spread to the people who aren’t immune to it because there simply aren’t enough viable carriers to transmit the disease.
However, even if a COVID-19 vaccine is found with up to a 75% effectivity rate, Fauci said that it was “unlikely” that America could achieve herd immunity. Why? Because up to a third of Americans have said they are unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine—even if it’s free to do so. Blame the rise of anti-vaxxer movements in America for that.
Fauci told Cohen that the inevitable pushback from some Americans is why it will be important to engage communities in the country to show that the vaccine is not only safe and effective but receiving it is for the good of themselves and society at large. If officials can’t do that, COVID-19 could still wreak havoc on Americans long after a vaccine has been found.
This post has been updated to clarify that Fauci’s interview was conducted as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival.