READING, Pa. – Some health experts now say the U.S. may not reach "herd immunity" when it comes to COVID-19, but one local doctor thinks it's still possible and that Berks County can eventually do it.

"I think we can get there but I just think people need to be a little bit patient," said Dr. Debra Powell, Reading Hospital's chief of infectious diseases.

Herd immunity, as defined by the World Health Organization, is "indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection." 

Powell says achieving herd immunity can happen but it's a numbers game. Right now, she believes close to 50% of people in Berks County are immune to COVID-19, based on the number of individuals who've been vaccinated and those who've already had the virus.

"So really, we want to hit the 80% mark in order to protect the entire community, so we're on our way there," Powell said.

She added, referencing the decision to get vaccinated, "I think people may be hesitant and saying, 'Well, I want other people to go first.' Well, they have gone first and now it's their turn to step in." 

Statewide, the health department says more than 8.5 million vaccinations have been given to date.

Powell says one way to get Berks closer to 80% will be to vaccinate children. 

"So it's going to be hard for us to get to herd immunity without vaccinating kids," she said, "so the Pfizer vaccine is submitted for FDA review and I expect that to be done in the next week or two, and that's going to be huge to get us to that herd immunity number." 

Powell says Reading Hospital is seeing fewer cases of COVID-19, and they have plenty of beds and ventilators. They are, however, seeing more younger people, as many older people are getting vaccinated.

She knows some people may be on the fence about rolling up their sleeves, so she encourages everyone to arm themselves with the facts. 

"Some people may need a reason to get the vaccine. 'Why do I need the vaccine?' she said. "And again, it's the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community, and to get us all back to doing what we considered normal."

According to Powell, there are many vaccination appointments available on the Tower Health website.

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