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OU Health Science Center administers 20,000 COVID-19 vaccines, pushes toward 'true' herd immunity

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Aaron Wendelboe

Dr. Aaron Wendelboe speaks during an event celebrating OU Health administering its 20,000th vaccine. 

The OU Health Sciences community hosted a Monday COVID-19 “vaccine event” for Oklahomans 65 and older, marking its administration of 20,000 vaccines. 

In an OU Health interview, the Director of Quality for OU Health Physicians Erin Bailey said the qualified patients registered through the state department portal. Bailey said the volunteers administered over 800 vaccines at the event. 

“We are here to help serve them if they become ill with COVID-19 in our hospital,” Bailey said. “But, we know prevention is the number one way to help keep Oklahomans healthy.” 

In the video, OU Health Chief Quality Officer and OU Chief COVID-19 Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said patients 65 and older represent 70 to 75 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and 80 percent of fatal COVID-19 cases.

“It’s a high-risk population,” Bratzler said. “It’s very important that we get the vaccine into those who are most vulnerable to the complications of COVID-19.” 

In the video, associate professor of epidemiology at the OU Hudson College of Public Health Aaron Wendelboe said the vaccine is helping Oklahoma reach a “conditional herd immunity.” 

In an interview with The Daily, Wendelboe said “true” herd immunity is based on the R naught, or the number of people one person could potentially infect in a “totally susceptible” population. 

Wendelboe said scientists have estimated the R naught of COVID-19 to be between three and 3.75, which means about 65 to 75 percent of the population needs to become immune to reach the herd immunity threshold. 

According to Wendelboe, the current R naught has dropped to about two due to mitigation efforts such as masking and social distancing, causing a potential “conditional” herd immunity. 

“The reason why it’s conditional is that as long as people continue to behave the same, such as masking and social distancing, then that (conditional) herd immunity threshold will hold,” Wendelboe said. “But, if people mistake that for the true herd immunity threshold … and they change their behavior, then we would start to see cases again. That’s because that effective reproductive number (would) get closer to the (estimated COVID-19) R naught.” 

Wendelboe said masking and social distancing is still necessary even after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“If we can do that through the summer — and especially because our vaccination rates are projected to improve — (then) by the end of the summer, we probably could be able to then remove those mitigation efforts,” Wendelboe said. “Then, we would have reached that true herd immunity threshold.” 

Wendelboe said an average of about 7,000 vaccine doses are being administered a day, but 15,000 would put Oklahoma in a “safety zone” from a potential resurgence of COVID-19. 

Jarad Anderson, a volunteer at the vaccine event and second-year medical student at the OU College of Medicine, said helping vaccinate these patients is a “privilege” in a “once-in-a-lifetime” pandemic. 

“I really view this, even as a medical student, as one of the highlights of my career,” Anderson said. “I think I will remember this for a long time, being able to contribute and help during this really important medical crisis.”

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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