Drop in hospitalizations allows for vaccination planning efforts as region eyes ‘herd immunity’

MIAMI VALLEY — A steep decline in hospitalizations locally over the last two months is allowing hospitals to make adjustments to their priorities as the region looks to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Miami Valley region reported 102 active hospitalizations with a COVID-19 diagnosis, which accounts for one in 21 patients at area hospitals having the virus, according to Ohio Hospital Association data.

>> Miami Valley vaccines: Where you can schedule a vaccination

“Our region’s hospitals were able to accommodate the previous surge with the tremendous work from their administrative, clinical and support teams,” said Lisa Henderson with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

“This decline in hospitalizations allows hospitals to get those staff back to other important efforts. It also allows for focus on planning and implementation of COVID vaccination efforts, a critical step in ending this pandemic,” Henderson said.

Statewide data released Wednesday showed Clark County has the areas highest vaccination rate, with about 15 percent of its population receiving the vaccine.

>> Vaccination rates: Here’s where each county stands with COVID-19 shots

The declining hospitalizations, continuation of vaccinations, possible expansions to capacity limits at stadiums and other venues across the state have served as bright spots in recent weeks as Ohio approaches one year since the first COVID-19 case locally.

The CDC modified its forecast, now expecting fewer deaths nationally due to COVID-19 in the weeks ahead than previously predicted. The CDC said Wednesday its predicting 548,000 total deaths to be reached in about a month on March 20.

“We are hopeful this trend will continue with vigilance from our community in sticking to the community health efforts that work – masking, limiting gathering, washing hands,” Henderson said. “We are also eager for the path forward offered by the vaccine, knowing demand currently exceeds supply, but our hospitals and partners are working tirelessly to get the vaccine to those at highest risk.”

Herd immunity is often a term used by experts to describe the threshold an area will need to meet to be able to end the pandemic.

“‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity’, is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection,” according to the World Health Organization. “Achieving herd immunity with safe and effective vaccines makes diseases rarer and saves lives.”

In Ohio, 959,995 people have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began last March and today 1.5 million Ohioans also have started their first vaccine doses.

It’s not clear how many among the 1.5 million who are vaccinated in the state previously had COVID-19. Current data shows about 13 percent of Ohioans are now at least partially vaccinated.

The WHO said about 95 percent of a population had to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity with measles and for polio it was about 80 percent.

“The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known,” WHO said in December.

Dr. Anthony Fauci also has his own thoughts on what it will take to reach herd immunity.

“I would think that you would need somewhere between 70, 75, maybe 80 percent of the population vaccinated, the number that I’ve been using again it’s a it’s an estimate,” Fauci told CNBC in December.

Currently, the U.S. has two COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use authorization by the FDA, with Moderna and Pfizer. Both require two shots. As soon as this weekend, the FDA could grant that same authorization to Johnson & Johnson, which would be the first one-shot COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

>>Coronavirus: Johnson & Johnson vaccine has ‘favorable safety profile,’ FDA briefing documents say