‘Functional immunity,’ not herd immunity, may be next goal as unvaccinated people remain hard to reach


NEW YORK — The leader of New York City’s public hospitals said that while our region doesn’t have herd immunity from the coronavirus, it does have “functional immunity,” where vaccinated people can have regular interactions with people safely, and infection rates continue to fall.  

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday the state’s vaccinated 69.1% of its residents — scraping toward the magic number of 70%.

Unvaccinated people, on the other hand, continue to be infected at high rates, according to New Jersey’s governor and health commissioner. It left Gov. Phil Murphy saying that the pandemic is becoming one most strongly affecting people who haven’t gotten a vaccine.

At Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily news conference on Wednesday, the CEO of the city’s Health and Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz, said that rather than having herd immunity, New York City has a lesser immunity status, but an immunity nonetheless.

“We are at functional immunity,” Katz said.  “The way I look at it,” he went on to explain, “New York City keeps  opening, we’re hugging each other, we’re shaking hands, and yet the number of cases is decreasing.”

New York City reported a very low COVID infection rate of 0.71%. The State of New Jersey, which has a population of similar size to New York City, had an almost identical infection rate, as a seven-day average: 0.72%.

Both low rates show that the virus is being contained.

However, Gov. Murphy of New Jersey said, “Those who are testing positive, or entering our hospitals, or dying, sadly, are now most likely [un]vaccinated.” 

“Increasingly,” he continued, “this is a pandemic among unvaccinated individuals.”

Supporting that claim were results from a survey that the state had done among vaccinated people from December 2020 to April of this year.

It found that a very small number of them contracted COVID. Such instances are called breakthrough cases. However, the number of breakthrough cases was even smaller than what emerged from clinical trials of the available vaccines.

Judy Persichilli, the New Jersey health commissioner, laid out the findings.

“The department identified 1,319 breakthrough cases, which represents 0.06% of those fully vaccinated. That means 99.94% of individuals vaccinated did not test positive for COVID-19.” 

Furthermore, among the really small number of vaccinated people who did contract coronavirus, none of them developed a serious case of COVID.

The overall findings paint a stark picture.  Most people who test positive, or are admitted to hospitals, or pass away have not been vaccinated, while virtually everyone who’s gotten one of the vaccines has remained healthy.

It “demonstrates that the vaccines work,” Persichilli said.

At the Englewood Health Physician Network, Dr. Stephen Brunnquell said there was just one singular COVID-19 patient being treated at Englewood Hospital Wednesday.

One reason for the telling statistic could be vaccine outreach.

“We’ve recently partnered with local community groups, religious groups, to use their leverage and their influence,” Brunnquell said. “We shouldn’t stop because we’re going to hit 70% in New Jersey. We should just keep going, and all those people who said before, ‘I’m gonna wait and see,’ ok, well we’ve waited, and we’ve seen. And it’s a pretty darn good result. It’s time to get vaccinated.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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