Vaccination Rate Spurs Hope for ‘Herd Immunity’

by | Mar 16, 2021 | COVID-19

From left to right: Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, Second District, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; Dr. Muntu Davis, County Health Officer, Los County Department of Public Health; Dr. Sarah Lopez, Patient Safety Officer, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services; Jim Mangia, President/CEO, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center

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Supply, not mistrust, remains top obstacle as schools, restaurants and more re-open

By Mark Hedin,Ethnic Media Services

With the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations steadily increasing, Los Angeles County officials are cautiously optimistic that ‘herd immunity’ will arrive soon – by summer if enough Angelenos get their shots.

“None of us would have imagined a year ago this week that we would just now be starting to reopen our schools and businesses,” County District 2 Supervisor Holly Mitchell said at an ethnic media news briefing on March 15. “Yet here we are, at a pivotal moment in our fight to end this dual (public health and economic) pandemic.”

Earlier that day, citing a decline in new infections, the state eased some COVID-19 safety precautions.

“With L.A. County moving into the red tier, it will allow many segments of our communities to reopen. I hope that what we learned from the pandemic will make us a better L.A. County, as opposed to returning back to normal,” Mitchell said.

For now, the biggest obstacle remains the struggle to get an adequate supply of vaccines.

But if President Biden was correct in announcing earlier in the month that by May there will be enough vaccines for everyone in the United States who wants one, life in Los Angeles by June could seem a lot more normal than it has been in the year since the pandemic began.

The county, home to 10 million people, is approaching 3 million vaccinations administered, including 900,000 second doses.

Health officials believe that once 75%-80% of the community is vaccinated, “herd immunity” will take effect, preventing further spread of the virus because there will be fewer potential victims to infect.

Without vaccines, that would take five years. If 25% of the community is vaccinated, it would take two-and-a-half years.

But a 50% vaccination rate would bring herd immunity in 10 months, Dr. Sarah Lopez, an emergency room doctor at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, explained.

As for rumors of community members being “vaccine hesitant,” reluctant to trust getting vaccinated, “We’re not seeing that,” Jim Mangia, president and CEO of the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, said.

His organization provides medical, dental and mental health services to 120,000 people at 20 sites and three mobile clinics in south and central Los Angeles.

“What we’re seeing on the front lines is patients who need access to vaccine. Throughout the community, people are lining up for the vaccine.”

At a church vaccine site recently, where 600 people had made appointments for vaccines, he said, word-of-mouth led 1,000 people to step up and get their shots.

“The county, the Department of Public Health has been doing amazing work,” he said. As of the previous weekend, his organization has vaccinated 80,000 people and is now serving 25,000 per week. Ninety-five percent of those vaccines, Mangia said, have gone to African American or Latinx clients.

With vaccines available at its clinics, East L.A. Civic Center, Clinton Elementary School, Compton College and other sites, “I think what we’re doing now is building the infrastructure to be able to mass-vaccinate the communities of central and south Los Angeles,” Mangia said.

Lopez took her own doctor’s advice and was vaccinated while undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive breast cancer last year. She explained some of the differences among various types of vaccines.

Some, like the (40% effective, she said) flu shot or hepatitis-B or HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines include a sample of the virus it’s aimed at.

But others, including all the COVID vaccines, do not.

Like the vaccines developed to battle Zika and Ebola, the new Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is known as a “viral vector” that attaches to corona virus “spike proteins,” triggering the body’s immune system to reject them.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produce a similar effect using messenger RNA in ways previously developed to fight cancer.

All three, Lopez and County Department of Public Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said, “are 100% effective at preventing hospitalization or death” and none caused even one hospitalization or death during testing while COVID-19 wrought its havoc.

As for the new re-openings, schools serving students in grades 7-12 can now open for in-person instruction, as can colleges and universities, except for their dormitories.

Restaurants, movie theaters, zoos, museums, aquariums and food courts can now operate at 25% capacity, although safety guidelines such as mask-wearing and social distancing are still in effect.

And retail and personal care businesses can operate at 50% capacity.

“Just because certain activities are allowed does not mean they’re without risk,” Davis cautioned. So gyms and yoga and dance studios are limited to 10% of capacity, because physical activities pose greater transmission risks, he noted.

At movie theaters, seating will be reserved and at least 6 feet distant from people from other households. To have indoor dining, a restaurant has to have adequate ventilation and tables at least 8 feet apart, with a limit of six people – all from the same household – at each.

“Outdoors is safer than indoors,” he said. “Most of us still are not vaccinated.”

But, “as more vaccine frees up,” Mangia said, “we are going to get more and more vaccine into the arms of people who need it, and see that herd immunity get to the levels we need to allow the communities of South L.A., Central L.A., East L.A., to be safe, go back to normal, back to work, and socialize with our families.”

Mark Hedin

Mark Hedin


Mark Hedin is a reporter for Ethnic Media Services. He has previously written for the Oakland Tribune, the Central City Extra, the San Francisco Chronicle, El Mensajero, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers.