Economists: Hawaii could reach herd immunity by July

  • FULEKY

  • TYNDALL

  • GANGNES

  • BONHAM

Hawaii could approach herd immunity from COVID-19 by early July if the rate of vaccinations remains consistent, economists with the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization predict.

But failing to meet the herd immunity goal could lead to social, health and economic losses for years to come.

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“Scientists expect that taming COVID-19 will require between 70% and 85% of the population having immunity,” wrote UHERO economists Carl Bonham, Peter Fuleky, Byron Gangnes and Justin Tyndall in a post on the UHERO website.

But the actual percentage of the population that must be vaccinated to curb spread of the novel coronavirus depends on the extent of immunity from those who have already been infected and the effectiveness of vaccines, the post continues.

Assuming the state can continue to administer an average of 13,800 vaccines per day through summer, 75% of the state’s population will be inoculated by the first week of July, UHERO predicts.

UHERO, however, will be monitoring the willingness of those who are not vaccinated to get vaccines.

“Hawaii has an opportunity to fully vaccinate its population in coming months and become one of the safest places in the country to live, work or visit,” the economists wrote. “A failure to achieve large-scale immunization could have long-term adverse consequences, including further mutations of the virus, health complications in infected individuals, a continuing drain on the health care system and further economic damage.”

According to UHERO, economic activity in Hawaii has been trending upward since last fall, and about 60% of economic losses from April 2020 and May 2020 so far have been recovered.

But changes in economic activity are associated with the fluctuation in the number of virus cases in Hawaii.

“Attaining widespread vaccination is an important step toward solidifying our nascent recovery and preventing economic backsliding,” the post concludes. “Herd immunity will not immediately return us to the pre-pandemic state of affairs, but the sooner we can get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the more certain will be economic growth prospects.”

The state Department of Health did not comment about UHERO’s projection, and did not offer an estimate for when the department expects herd immunity to be reached.

“No one knows exactly what percentage of the population must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity,” DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said in an email. “As more contagious variants spread, we likely need more people vaccinated than first anticipated. Our best strategy is to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

“Hawaii’s young adults will play an important role in whether we reach herd immunity, and how quickly.”

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The full UHERO report can be found online at bit.ly/UHEROreport.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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