BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Could this recent surge in COVID-19 cases create herd immunity? Experts from Johns Hopkins University answered that question and more during a virtual panel Thursday about how the U.S. should address this disturbing trend.

Herd immunity is when enough people in a group are protected from an infection, either because they had the infection and recovered or because they were vaccinated, that even if an individual isn’t protected, they are less likely to get exposed.

“We’re very, very far from that idea of herd immunity. You need the majority of people to be protected,” said Dr. Amber D’Souza, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And of course, how does the epidemic end? It ends with us getting to a point where either, worst case scenario, this infection runs through and affects so many of us, which of course, we want to avoid. Or we hold out, we keep numbers down until we’re vaccinated. And once the majority of people are vaccinated, the transmission will begin to slow, because more and more people will be protected.”

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The goal is to protect the population through a vaccine and not because so many people have gotten sick or died.

“If we do not reverse the trends, the way they’re going now, a lot of people could become sick, and be really, really ill,” she added. “We’re very worried, not just about the deaths, but about the long term health consequences that many people who get these infections suffer.”

Despite all the coronavirus vaccine developments, Dr. D’Souza says more people are expected to get sick before a vaccine is a viable option.

“We already see so many people who are affected, and with the way trends are going there could be really a lot more people over the next six months before vaccination might really be at the levels that we need to begin seeing protection,” she said. “It’s going to take many, many months from now, before we have the vaccines approved and deployed.”

The panel reiterated why its so important for local jurisdictions to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus until a vaccine is readily available to the public.

“In places that are experiencing widespread community transmission and where hospitals are starting to come under strain, we need to look at closing high risk activities and settings,” said Dr. Caitlin Rivers, a Senior Scholar with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.And that could include indoor dining bars, gyms, the places where we know the virus spreads easily because it’s indoors and because masks are not possible or not often worn. I think those are the steps we need to take to really get things under control.”

The full panel will be posted shortly.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

CBS Baltimore Staff

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