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To win the battle against the pandemic, kids will be vital.

The fight against COVID-19 has long been focused on adults – particularly older adults. But kids are becoming a more prominent part of the conversation. We likely won’t see an end to the pandemic, experts say, until children can get vaccinated.

The relative importance of immunizing children depends in part on how we define herd immunity and a return to normal, says Samuel Scarpino, assistant professor in the Network Science Institute at Northeastern, where he directs the Emergent Epidemics Lab.

If the goal is simply to limit the risk of significant outbreaks that spread quickly through a population, while maintaining social distancing measures and mask-wearing, then about 40 to 50 percent of the population needs to have immunity from vaccination or past illness, he says.

The idea behind that level of immunity in a population would be to reduce the possibility that infection could spread like wildfire among communities as lockdowns lift and social distancing measures remain. But, Scarpino says, if people want to yank off their masks and rejoin crowds safely, it might take more.

“What that means is that if an outbreak gets started, you could end up with 20 to 30 percent of the population getting infected. And 20 to 30 percent of the population, that’s the size of the wave we just had, this huge epidemic that we just had,” Scarpino says. “So instead, I think it’s probably better for us to think about a ‘we’re safe’ threshold, which is once you get, say, 80 percent of the population vaccinated.”

 

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