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Kansas City metro doctors address COVID-19 herd immunity questions

Questions remain about mask mandates, immunity
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Posted at 5:31 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 12:50:20-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Though residents continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, questions remain about what it will take to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic days.

And as cities, counties and states inch toward herd immunity status, health experts said that status comes with other issues. Doctors said between 70% and 85% of a city's population will need to be vaccinated to reach the immunity.

"We understand that different people come in different belief sets," Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary, said. "We hope that the local community's leaders and clinicians and the people that people trust will be successful."

Norman told 41 Action News that medical experts don't know if the percentage is the right number, but rather a good estimate based on prior pandemics and other respiratory viruses.

"I think there's a good chance that we won't get to herd immunity, no matter what the number is because of the slowdown in the vaccine," Norman said. "We very well could end up with a different end game."

Nearly 30% of Kansas City, Missouri, residents are vaccinated, while a larger city like San Francisco sits at almost 60%. So, what happens in KCMO and surrounding cities don't hit that herd immunity number?

"There's nothing convenient about that scenario you just painted," Norman said.

He also said this is all up to people getting vaccinated.

"We will probably be starting with 12- to 16-year-olds soon, but the 65 and older – so we have over 90% vaccinated," Norman said. "So to get herd immunity, it has to come on the backs of younger people."

Then comes the question of places with a higher percentage of people vaccinated tossing out mask mandates, while those with lower rates still require masks.

"I think that's exactly the situation we're [in], even looking at scenarios where we can provide guidance," Norman said. "We're already doing that. With schools we're doing it, with nursing homes now, which is, if you have a certain amount of transmission, X number of cases per hundred thousand, you must take it seriously."

As far as the potential for travel bans within the United States, doctors like KCMO Health Director Dr. Rex Archer said it could happen if a mutation of the virus is so bad and the vaccine won't protect those who received it.

"Then, theoretically then you could be saying, well, because you got that variant in that city we are not letting your folks come here," Archer said.

Though experts said there are so many variables that it is hard to predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months, they hope people continue to get vaccinated.