Pandemic Forecast: Herd Immunity and Vaccine Distribution


New Oliver Wyman analysis on when and how a vaccine may be available and key considerations for how to reach herd immunity.

John Ross

Editor’s Note: According to Oliver Wyman's COVID-19 Almanac, pandemic recovery will occur when cumulative immunity reaches the possible herd immunity threshold. How "hot" the US runs moving forward is critical to our progress. Although recovery will be aided by an effective vaccine, its development and production are complicated when conducted via a standard timeline. Of note, in the past week, we’ve seen announcements from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna indicating vaccine efficacies in the 95 percent range, and a resurgence of the virus that has daily case counts at 120,000. Oliver Wyman’s Pandemic Navigator team addresses these “breaking developments” in the exhibit below. 

The following webinar, hosted by John Ross, CEO of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), features new pandemic predictions from Oliver Wyman Partner, Helen Leis. John and Helen discuss how those parts of the US hit especially hard by the pandemic may achieve herd immunity faster, how we may be able to support a much higher daily case rate throughout the remainder of the Fall compared to previously, and key considerations for a COVID-19 vaccine, such as how some require extreme cold storage at negative 94 degrees, some require a booster, and why current social distancing and safety measures may be in place for the next 12 months or more.

Memorable Moments

  • "Some parts of the country had been very hard hit [in the first wave of the pandemic]. And others haven't. So different places will reach herd immunity at different times. Places that went to shelter-in-place quickly like California and Vermont have not had very many people exposed or infected to the virus. Places like New York, on the other hand (New York City in particular), had been very hard-hit. So it is possible that they would achieve herd immunity faster and require fewer vaccines because they've already had so many people exposed and infected."
  • "There have been some new findings in clinical treatments that have less of a burden of the disease on the hospital system. So we think we could support potentially a higher run rate than 75,000 cases a day. We recently broached 100,000 cases a day. What does that mean in terms of hospital systems being breached? I think we're probably getting closer. Could we go north of 100,000? Potentially. What you'll see is because it's an average across the US, some places may still say, 'We have to close things down or move to more strict suppression measures because we can't afford to have our hospital systems over capacity.'"
  • "In the best-case scenario, you'll have a couple of vaccines approved this quarter, Q4. ... We don't know the full effects of some of the vaccines before they're approved. ... The cold chain distribution is a pretty complex logistical challenge. ... And then you have to have good throughput of people coming in and getting vaccinated. And in a COVID-19 world where we're trying to do social distancing instead of scheduling appointments five apart, vaccination is going to be a slower process than people may realize."
  • "We've become a society that relies on the quick fix, the silver bullet. 'What's the magic pill I can take for this all to go away and be over?' And the fact of the matter is there is no silver bullet. There is no magic pill that will make it go away. It's just consistently applied, disciplined adherence to certain protocols."

Watch the Full Webinar