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Delta variant pushing back threshold for herd immunity

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said the herd immunity threshold is now expected to be between 80 to 89% due to the delta variant.

AUSTIN, Texas — The race for herd immunity against COVID-19 in Austin is being set back due to the delta variant. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said the herd immunity threshold is now expected to be between 80 to 89%, instead of 70 to 75%.

A total of 63.42% of Travis County residents eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. A total of 73.39% of the eligible population has received at least one dose.

“We were hoping that we could get to 70 and things would be great,” Walkes said. “But the science has changed, and the science has changed because this virus, just like all living creatures, has found a way to survive by mutating itself. It’s spreading a lot easier in our community, and so it’s going to require that we have higher herd immunity thresholds.”

At a joint meeting with the Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council Tuesday, Walkes said 54% of the entire Austin-Travis County population is fully vaccinated. She said 16% of the population is considered “vulnerable” to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control said the delta variant is just as contagious as chickenpox. Walkes said the threshold for herd immunity for chickenpox is between 90 to 92%.

Walkes added that 80.99% of patients in area hospitals are unvaccinated as of Tuesday, Aug. 3.

Last month, APH reported that over 70% of the eligible population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. However, when announcing it reached its goal at the time, APH said the delta variant was already prompting a reassessment of herd immunity.

Only 52.85% of the eligible population of Texas is fully vaccinated. The state ranked 37th on Becker Hospital Review’s list of states based on the percent of the population fully vaccinated on Aug. 3.

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