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Health officials concerned herd immunity will be hard to reach

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin is reporting fewer COVID-19 deaths and new cases.

State health officials say around 350 more people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, down from 400 Saturday and 600 Friday.

The 7-day average is leveling out and there were no new deaths from the virus.

This comes as more than 43 percent of the state's population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 34 percent is fully vaccinated.

That number is just a little better than the national average.

But health experts are worried we've reached a speed bump on the way to herd immunity.

In the first week of April, more than 420,000 people were vaccinated, a record-breaking number in the state.

Weekly vaccinations have been dropping ever since.

"So we're making progress, but we're slowing down a little bit. And we need to continue as much as possible to try and keep going forward at the pace we were previously so that we can hit those targets that we all want to in the future," Dr. Matt Anderson with UW Health said.

He was talking about herd immunity, the point where there are enough people vaccinated that, even if there are new COVID infections, the virus can't really spread.

"The range generally speaking is somewhere between that 70 to 85 percent," he said.

He says at the current vaccination rates, we're not going to be hitting those numbers any time soon.

Nationally, experts believe we may never reach the milestone.

However, Dr. Anderson says that's no reason to let up on the vaccine effort.

"It's not an on-off switch. If we get to 60 percent instead of 70 percent, for example, we're going to still have lower rates of spread, we're gonna have lower hospitalizations, we're going to have fewer complications than we would if we were at 50 percent, or we were at 40 percent," he said.

Because the vaccination rate has been steadily dropping all month, he says it's clear we've reached the percentage of people who are less motivated or more hesitant about getting the vaccine.

Now vaccinators just have to help those people overcome their barriers.

"We need to make vaccination more convenient, we need to provide additional education information," Dr. Anderson said. "We need to normalize vaccination within our usual clinic structures that really facilitate some of those one-to-one conversations between patients and their trusted medical providers."

One reason vaccination rates will be lower is because younger people aren't currently eligible en-masse to get the vaccine.

But Dr. Anderson said, at UW Health at least, they have enough Pfizer vaccine doses that 16 or 17-year-olds could likely get an appointment tomorrow if they wanted.

Francisco Almenara

Reporter, WKOW

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