Is COVID on its last gasp?

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A nurse prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the new coronavirus to be injected at the Andras Josa Teaching Hospital in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Attila Balazs/MTI via AP)

DENVER (KDVR) — If the lifted restrictions and maskless businesses weren’t already a clue, experts and data both say Colorado has turned a COVID corner for good.

All signs point to a national milestone: there simply aren’t enough susceptible people for COVID to wreak havoc like it did in December. Now as Colorado comes out of a small fourth wave, the virus looks to be on its last leg as leaders try to push more people to get vaccinations.

Dr. Glen Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the Colorado School of Public Health, says the first and third COVID waves are largely a thing of the past. Whether or not the United States achieves herd immunity, there simply aren’t enough unvaccinated people of older age groups and with prior conditions for the past to repeat itself.

“We’re not gonna see those high peaks we saw last year,” Mays said. “Especially those late life people, people in older age groups. That’s where the large portions of those hospitalizations and deaths came from. This vaccination program has largely taken them out of the picture.

State health metrics broadly agree.

The 7-day average of cases has been on a sustained downswing since late April, and now matches roughly the lowest point since before last fall’s third wave. The number of deaths among cases also continues to fall even though data isn’t decreasing at the same rate.

The number of new hospital admissions has fallen, too. It isn’t at the same low point of early March, but has quickly dropped by more than 30% over the last ten days.

Vaccination data says this trend will continue even though the demand for vaccines is falling. The number of Coloradans that get vaccinated each day has been cut in half compared to mid-April even though leaders are trying to incentivize getting vaccinated.

Dr. Mays says herd immunity may not even be possible if vaccine demand keeps dropping. Nationally, the conversation around COVID has shifted to acknowledging that it may become simply one illness among many.

“We’ve never achieved herd immunity with seasonal influenza,” Mays said. “We’ve never gotten that. This could become another seasonal virus we have to combat. I’m hoping not.”

If not, much of the near future depends on the vaccine and what we know about it. Vaccinating children under the age of 12 will be a big step in dampening whatever transmission still takes place in schools and childcare centers.

A potential snag lies in the length of time that immunizations last. Several healthcare leaders have said booster shots may be needed on a regular basis, much like the seasonal influenza vaccines.

Still, Dr. Mays said he would prefer to see an American sense of self-reliance push people to achieve herd immunity.

“We’re all hoping the relaxing of restrictions shifts the responsibility back to the individuals,” he said. “We don’t need government. The locus shifts to us. As that messaging starts to sink in, I’m hoping that will start people getting back to it.”

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