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As efforts to vaccinate Texans and keep the coronavirus spread under control continue, the state is rapidly opening up, with traffic getting busier and larger crowds in places that have seemed empty for the last year.
Everything from ballparks to concert venues to restaurants are filling up.
There’s a race going on, between the desire to return to a pre-pandemic normal and to get enough Texans immunized to make that a safe proposition.
At the moment, the desire to see an end to the pandemic is a lot stronger than the evidence that the end of the pandemic is near. And this week’s news about vaccines and immunizations could feed misgivings about getting the shots.
The governor of Texas is talking up the possibility that we are “very close” to herd immunity, when in reality, that condition remains well out of reach. Meanwhile, a fresh scare about rare safety risks of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — one of three that has been widely administered in Texas — is fueling some resistance to COVID-19 immunizations.
All of those things could push herd immunity further into the future.
Gov. Greg Abbott is making the end sound close at hand. It’s not. As of Sunday, 19.7% of the state’s population — about 5.7 million people — had been fully vaccinated. If you add in the number of Texans with acquired immunity from confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases — 2.8 million — that means as much as 29.3% of the state’s population is immune.
“I don't know what herd immunity is, but when you add it to the people who have acquired immunity, it looks like it could be very close to herd immunity,” Abbott said on Fox News Sunday.
His math is faulty: The state remains far short of the 75% to 90% vaccination levels that health experts say would achieve herd immunity. And even if every adult in the state was vaccinated, the shots aren’t yet available for Texans under age 16 — about 23% of the population.
The real math: Texas is at least 13.3 million vaccinations or new COVID-19 cases away from herd immunity. The governor did say that “we’re not declaring victory,” but talking as if the vaccination job is already done is hardly an incentive to get the remaining Texans lined up for their shots.
Two days after the governor’s irrationally exuberant comments, the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine given to 6.8 million Americans was temporarily halted, as federal health officials investigate six reports of a “rare and severe type of blood clot” in women who received the shot.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who’ve had that vaccine should contact a doctor if they experience bad headaches, pain in the abdomen or legs, or shortness of breath within three weeks after getting the shot. They paused the use of that vaccine while they’re looking at what they believe is a rare reaction.
“The odds are that you are twice as likely to be hit by lightning than to have had this rare complication. But having said that, it is a significant type of blood clot and problem, so they really need to take a look at this and sort through the information, make sure they have the best data and make sure that actually is the probability, and get as much information as possible,” said Dr. David Lakey, vice chancellor for health affairs and a chief medical officer at the University of Texas System and a member of the state's Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.
Two more vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are still being administered. Officials are hopeful they can keep the momentum they’ve built in the last few weeks. It’s clear that everybody from the governor on down wants herd immunity. And to get back to normal.
We’re closer. But we’re not there yet.
Disclosure: The University of Texas System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.