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Opinions vary on when we'll reach herd immunity with COVID-19

'I think if we plan for the fall and it winds up being sometime earlier, then we can celebrate,' said Dr. John Sellick, hospital epidemiologist for Kaleida Health.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After almost a year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, there's still the question of when life will get back to some level of normalcy.

Experts say that has a lot to do with when we reach herd immunity, also known as community immunity. 

"Essentially what it is, whichever way you call it, is that once you get to a certain level of immunity in the population, then the disease will not spread as much," said Dr. John Sellick, a hospital epidemiologist for Kaleida Health and a professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo.

As for when that could happen, there are varying opinions.

A professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he believes, at the current trajectory, COVID will be mostly gone by April. You can read that op-ed here.

In a COVID-19 briefing Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said we expect to reach herd immunity in June or July. 

Dr. Sellick thinks fall is more realistic. 

"I think if we plan for the fall and it winds up being sometime earlier, then we can celebrate," he explained. "But the thing that we don't want to do is tell people everything is going to be great by April or great by July, and then if it's not, then we have to walk that back and say, 'OK, what went wrong?' " 

He added, "The big discussion that we have now is ... while we've had such a massive decline in cases in the last few weeks, that has to be because we're developing herd immunity. But on the other hand, I think we're looking at so much of that spike that we had in December and January was because of congregations." 

Dr. Sellick believes the truth is probably somewhere in between the two extremes. He added that the faster the vaccine rollout, the faster we'll hit that point. However, there are other factors to consider.

"Getting to community or herd immunity is a combination of both the vaccine and natural immunity," Dr. Sellick said. 

He also pointed out some areas may get there before others, given it can be geographically and population-dependent. 

In the meantime, he urges people to continue following public health measures and do their part to stop the spread.