This is when we'll have herd immunity against COVID in the UK

Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·3 min read
Photo credit: © Santiago Urquijo - Getty Images
Photo credit: © Santiago Urquijo - Getty Images

Our vocabulary has been completely overhauled since the arrival of COVID-19 into our lives at the start of last year. Despite rarely having uttered them prior to 2020, phrases such as 'social distancing,' 'lateral flow,' and 'herd immunity' are now being dropped into conversations regularly. And that last one - herd immunity - is particularly prevalent at the moment, as speculation arises about exactly when we might expect to reach it.

If you're unfamiliar with what herd immunity is, here goes: It's the point at which enough people in a population have developed immunity (either through having had the virus or having received a vaccine) to an infectious disease that it slows its spread. The idea is, if enough people develop a resistance to coronavirus, its transmission will reduce so much that it will hopefully begin to die out.

As we know, the UK's vaccination rollout is going pretty well. At last official count, almost 33 million people had been given their first dose of either the Pfizer, Oxford, or Moderna jab, with nearly 10 million of those having received a second dose, too. What that means is that we're (hopefully) on a steady path to herd immunity, and there's a useful tool that now calculates an estimate of when that will be, so you can circle it in your diary and pop a bottle to celebrate.

Photo credit: IrenaV - Getty Images
Photo credit: IrenaV - Getty Images

Omni Calculator's Vaccine Queue Calculator is best known for providing an estimate of when you'll receive the vaccine based on your individual characteristics, and you can read more about that here. But it also keeps a very close eye on the vaccine rate each week and the uptake across the population, and uses those figures to work out when herd immunity will be achieved.

The herd immunity date is calculated by estimating when 70% of the adult population will have had both doses of the COVID vaccine, plus an extra three weeks for everyone to reach maximum immunity. And right now, it's predicted to be on August 27, 2021. Not that I'm counting, but that is four months and eight days away, and it couldn't come sooner in my opinion.

Photo credit: Vladimir Mandic - Getty Images
Photo credit: Vladimir Mandic - Getty Images

While experts are marking herd immunity as a definite milestone in the pandemic, it doesn't necessarily mean we should assume COVID will be forever banished once that date hits, because there will still be pockets of people around the country (and plenty around the globe) who have not got immunity and among whom the disease can still spread and mutate. Tim Spector OBE, a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London and also the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, explained that herd immunity "should prevent future large-scale outbreaks. However, we do expect to see smaller, manageable outbreaks in the coming weeks and months among groups which are yet to be vaccinated."

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