- - Wednesday, November 10, 2021

It has been about two years since the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 entered the human population, and the world has marked another grim milestone: The global death toll has surpassed more than 5 million people, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The deaths include more than 750,000 Americans, of whom roughly 100,000 have died in the past three months despite the availability of effective vaccines and booster shots.

Soon, however, Americans may reach the post-pandemic phase of this nightmarish saga. That is because herd immunity may be on the horizon, said historian John Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”

In this episode of History As It Happens, Mr. Barry explains why at least 90% of the U.S. population could soon have at least some immunity to the deadly virus.

“Delta has elbowed aside every other variant. It has done so because it is much more transmissible than the others… and once delta infects someone, you have natural immunity,” Mr. Barry said.

Sixty-seven percent of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, and if the current pace of one million daily doses is maintained, the slippery goal of herd immunity could be reached this winter. 

But herd immunity will not be perfect immunity, and as residents of cold-weather states begin to spend more time indoors, the unvaccinated and unmasked will continue to contract the virus and become ill, and many thousands more could die, said Mr. Barry, a distinguished scholar at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“To everybody in public health it is so disturbing to see all these unvaccinated people. They are choosing not to be vaccinated because of absurd [reasons]… I’ve seen some quotes of people saying they would feel disloyal to Trump if they got vaccinated. I mean, they’re crazy,” Mr. Barry said.

Of additional concern is that the pandemic continues to rage across other parts of the globe, increasing the possibility of the emergence of new variants that would eventually find their way to the U.S.

For more of Mr. Barry’s remarks about what to expect in a post-pandemic world, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.

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