COLUMBUS (WCMH) — “Herd immunity” is a term that has been tossed around by medical experts throughout the pandemic.

But, what does it mean, especially as more people start to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Health experts warn that the quickly spreading, more contagious variants could jeopardize getting to this point.

“We will get to herd immunity by one of three different combinations: 1) people get vaccinated, 2) people get immunity from natural infection, or 3) what’s really happening in the real world, it’s a combination of both,” describes infectious disease expert Dr. Joseph Gastaldo from OhioHealth.

Medical experts have suggested it will take a combined 70-80% percent of the population either being vaccinated, or naturally infected by COVID019 to reach that goal of herd immunity.

“Will we get there? We will get there eventually. However, we’ll get there a lot quicker with people getting vaccines into their arms,” Dr. Gastaldo admits. “If we’re going to wait for natural infection to get us to herd immunity, that’s going to cause a lot more pain and suffering and death because of COVID-19.”

But what if vaccine hesitancy prevents us from reaching that point?

So far, just over 33% of Ohioans have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I know people are tired. I know people have fatigue from COVID and this pandemic, and they want to get back to some sense of normalcy, but it’s going to take us some time to get to life pre COVID-19,” warns Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.

However, vaccine supply will soon outweigh demand. Which leaves questions about what happens to health orders when vaccine rates plateau, and those who want the shot have already been fully vaccinated?

“Wearing a mask is going to be the key for all of us, and that’s going to be in place or at least advised for a while,” Dr. Roberts admits.

Experts still project we could reach herd immunity by summer.

“Really the true definition of herd immunity is when we don’t see the level of virus that we currently see in our community,” says Dr. Roberts.

And how will we know when we’ve reached that point?

“We’ll know when we get there, when our hospitalizations bottom out, and more importantly, we’ll know when we get there when our positivity numbers bottom out,” Dr. Gastaldo adds.

For those hoping to see health orders lifted, Dr. Roberts reminded that Ohio is ‘open,’ and while mask and social distancing recommendations remain in place, she warns that life won’t go back to normal immediately even if we reach herd immunity.