Calculator Shows California's Herd Immunity Progress Lags Far Behind June 15 Reopening

Some public health experts question whether next week is too soon to reopen based on the state's herd immunity timeline

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There’s almost an electricity in the air, a palpable anticipation to return to normal as the state gets set to reopen Tuesday, June 15.

But the big question is: Is it safe?

This interactive online calculator uses U.S. Census population data and CDC vaccination numbers to predict when different regions will reach herd immunity – 85% of the population vaccinated.

Data enthusiast Wei Bin Loo designed the calculator.

“Building the tool, it’s — the main purpose is not for me to tell people whether they should or should not be concerned," Loo said. "It’s more like providing the means to understand the situation.”

If you select the herd immunity goal, and the state of California, and include adolescents, given our current vaccination rate, we won’t reach herd immunity until September – well after the reopening date.

To meet this goal before June 15, California would have to vaccinate roughly 2 million more people a day than it is now.

Using the current vaccination rate of about 166,000 vaccines per day in California, the calculator projects the state will not reach the goal of vaccinating 85% (30,950,000 people) over the age of 12 with at least one dose until Sep. 18, 2021. That's 95 days after the reopening date.

“There has to be something out there that at least can hold the government accountable for what they are planning," Loo said. "For what they are trying to make the public believe. So the people will know are they really doing what they promised?”

Yaneer Bar-Yam, the president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, worked to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa under the Obama administration.

“We’ve seen that story before, and it’s a very terrible story," said Bar-Yam, who has long been critical of California's tier system approach. “What we’re doing is we’re playing with this game. Let’s see if we can open up a little bit more and it’ll be OK, and that’s what’s getting us into trouble instead of just saying let’s finish with this and see if we can get the cases to go down, and then we can open up safe.”

It's an approach he thinks is, so far, nothing short of a public health policy failure – one that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

“We reacted incredibly poorly," Bar-Yam said. “There are a lot of people who have suffered and we didn’t have to do it this way.”

And even more people will suffer still, according to Bar-Yam, if we don’t rethink returning to normal before the virus has been eradicated.

He says we should keep vaccinating and masking until new cases reach zero – only at zero new cases does Bar-Yam think it’s completely safe to reopen. Otherwise, he says it's possible we might have to re-close. Though he doesn't predict we will see another full-blown lockdown. Instead, Bar-Yam feels it's likely we might have to reintroduce milder restrictions - like limits on gatherings, masks, etc.

A big reason why is because of fast-spreading, more vaccine-resistant and deadlier COVID variants like the Delta variant ravaging India and proving twice as capable of infecting people who are fully vaccinated. Bar-Yam said this means variants are capable of starting a new pandemic.

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