When will we reach herd immunity?

Less than 1 percent of Florida’s population has been inoculated with both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. And when it is finally your turn to get the shot, do not expect everything will change the second the syringe enters your arm.

Experts say life will gradually start going back to normal as more people are vaccinated, and they caution we need to have realistic expectations around what life will look like in 2021, and the COVID-19 vaccines play a crucial role.

"The vaccines are probably close to 95 percent in preventing any infection at all, and they were 100 percent effective in preventing serious diseases resulting from COVID-19 infection," said USF College of Public Health distinguished professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch.

He says that means you can feel relatively safe ditching the mask and quitting social distancing if you are with a group of friends or family who have all been vaccinated with the two-shot series, and not interacting with the public.

"I think we’re going to regain one of the four Norman Rockwell freedoms for the United States, freedom from fear," Unnasch said.  "Once you’re vaccinated twice, you, I don’t think, have to fear getting the infection anymore."

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Officials warn inoculation does not guarantee immunity. So even vaccinated people have to assume they can still become infected and pass the virus along.

Until we reach herd immunity, where enough people are protected against COVID-19 that new outbreaks do not spark easily, mask wearing and distancing remain essential.

"With this new U.K. variant that’s out there, probably somewhere a little bit north of 80 percent of the populations going to have to be immune, either through natural infection or through getting vaccinated, before we reach herd immunity and this thing is just going to die out on its own," explained Unnasch.

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According to the CDC, that potentially more contagious strain has now been detected in 20 states. Florida leads the country with 46 confirmed infections, followed by California with 40.

Unnasch says reaching herd immunity by letting the infection spread through the community comes at a tremendous cost. A recent White House Coronavirus Taskforce report warned Florida will see "significant fatalities for many weeks." Now is not time to let our guard down against this virus.

"We only have to do it for another few months and were going to be through this thing," Unnasch said.

Experts say the new coronavirus variant will likely become the dominant strain here in the U.S. in the next few months. So far, current vaccines are effective against the mutated strain.

MORE: COVID-19 vaccine distribution information in Tampa Bay area counties