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2021 Topical Reporting, Pandemic Coverage, Single Story finalist

A Vaccine, or a Spike in Deaths

How America Can Build Herd Immunity to the Coronavirus

About the Project

As covid-19 was spreading in the United State and starting a second wave, some voices started to raise a possible solution, which some countries embraced: Since the mortality rate of those infected is quite low, why can we just let the virus run free, allow the nation to reach herd immunity, and finish this pandemic?

That idea brought up two questions: What is herd immunity, and what would be the cost of taking that road? Graphics reporter Harry Stevens talked to epidemiologists, biologists, and experts in public health to build an interactive feature that would answer those questions. His reporting resulted in two answers: There are different definitions on when a country reaches herd immunity, but whatever we take, the cost of such a policy would be millions of deaths in the United States.

This article mixes traditional explanatory journalism, animations, and interactive graphics to allow readers not just to understand the meaning of those terms, but to be able to explore what would be the result of different scenarios: What if we consider herd immunity to be just at 60 percent of the population? And what if, as we learn more of the virus, the fatality rate descends to 0.7 percent? Then the cost in deaths to reach herd immunity would be 1.38 million Americans. Is that a price that we, as a nation, would be willing to pay to end this pandemic faster?