Seeking a Return to Pre-Pandemic Normal

Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in UAB’s School of Public Health. (Source: UAB)

Alabama could have a “return to normality” this fall if people continue to get vaccinations as they are now, a UAB expert said Thursday.

UAB School of Public Health professor Suzanne Judd said vaccinated people could feel confident returning to their pre-pandemic lifestyles when the rate of cases drops to 5 per 100,000. That is likely to happen when 70% of the population of the state, or about 3.5 million people, has immunity to the novel coronavirus.

It will be September to October before Alabama hits 70% immunity from vaccines, Judd said. The state could reach that level in June or so if people who have had the disease are included in the count. However, evidence shows that having the disease confers immunity for only three to nine months, Judd said, so the true level of immunity in June will be questionable.

The concept of “herd immunity” has gotten a lot of attention since the pandemic began. But Judd said the country is unlikely to achieve true herd immunity when it comes to COVID. An example of herd immunity would be the measles, according to Judd. The vast majority of people have been vaccinated, and cases are rare. When a case does occur, outbreaks tend to be small and isolated.

Judd said Alabama is more likely to see intermittent cases of COVID-19 as it does flu. It’s unknown at this point whether the COVID vaccines will require booster shots to continue immunity.

Judd also said that several large-scale events set for this weekend have her nervous. The state isn’t anywhere near any definition of a group immunity at this point, she said. For every 1,000 people at a gathering, at least one person has COVID, she said.

So she’s concerned that returning to major events now could cause another spike in cases, which would delay the progress the state has made.

Alabamians are being urged to continue wearing masks through the summer and to continue social distancing until they have had both vaccinations plus two weeks, the minimum period of time it takes for the vaccines to become fully effective.