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Northern Michigan health care leaders worry herd immunity is out of reach

Brett Dahlberg

Officials at a Northern Michigan health care system said Tuesday they were growing increasingly concerned about ever reaching herd immunity against COVID-19.

Infectious disease experts at Traverse City-based Munson Healthcare said they worried the virus that causes the disease will continue to spread because too few people are willing to get a vaccine.

“Because it is so infectious, we do need a very high level of immunity before we can stop its transmission,” said Dr. Mark Cannon. “If a virus has infected one person but has nowhere else to jump to because there are too many immune people around, that’s when it goes away.”

“That person is essentially a dead-end host.”

Scientists had initially estimated the vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity around 70%. More recently, though, Michigan’s top epidemiologist put it at about 90%.

Cannon said hesitancy to get vaccinated is increasingly unfounded: The shots are safe.

“If people are waiting on real-world data, they don’t need to wait anymore. We have it.”

Dr. Christopher Ledtke said it’s certainly possible to find reports of people who have had severe reactions to the vaccine, but the vast majority are very rare and easily managed by vaccine clinic staff.

He said concerns about side effects like infertility are not based in science.

“You will hear about infertility depending on where you look on the internet or on social media, but there is no concern,” Ledtke said.

The doctors said they want people to get vaccinated not just to protect themselves, but also to stop the virus from spreading to others.

Dr. Christine Nefcy, the health care system’s chief medical officer, said stopping the virus’s spread also relies on people getting tested for travel and quarantining upon their return, even if they test negative. She said precautions around travel are especially important now as schools approach their spring breaks.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.
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