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February 22, 2021

While the strong decline in new coronavirus infections across the country this month is an optimistic sign he expects to continue, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the U.S. may never reach herd immunity against the virus.

I don’t really think we’re ever going to reach full herd immunity,” Gottlieb told Margaret Brennan on CBS’ Face The Nation Sunday, when asked about vaccinating children, though he didn’t elaborate on why. “This isn’t going to be like measles or smallpox, which just sort of goes away. Covid is going to continue to circulate at a low level.”

While estimates vary for how many Americans need to receive a vaccine or have been previously infected for the country to reach herd immunity, the country’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said in December it could be as high as 90% of the population. 

Other studies have found herd immunity in the U.S. could be reached as early as May if vaccinations continue to pick up.

Gottlieb said he’s still “optimistic” about the immediate future, saying that rising vaccination rates and the fact that a third of the American public has already been infected with the coronavirus likely provides enough protection to continue to decrease the number of new infections, even if the population doesn’t reach full immunity against the virus.

On Thursday, the seven-day rolling average for new coronavirus infections had fallen by a staggering 43% in just two weeks.

“This has taken a tragic toll on the United States, but I think we should be optimistic in my view,” Gottlieb said.

Some experts predict that if the U.S. never achieves full immunity, Covid-19 may become a seasonal virus, as reinfection of coronaviruses is very common. The number of new daily coronavirus infections and coronavirus patients in hospitals began to slump this month after the country recorded rising cases that peaked in January, a phenomenon some experts have blamed on people traveling and meeting with groups outside of their households for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 28 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, making up roughly a quarter of the world’s confirmed cases.