HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — COVID-19 immunity rates along the Grand Strand are nearing 70%, according to data from MUSC, but other health officials said we aren’t there yet.

Recent MUSC reports show Horry County at 66% and Georgetown County at 69%.

“We don’t know an exact number to reach the level of herd immunity. I’ve seen folks throw out 70% to 80%. I’ve seen numbers all over the board,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center (CMC).

MUSC’s data includes people who have recovered from the virus — or natural immunity — and those who are vaccinated. Right now Horry County’s natural immunity rate sits at 34.1% and Georgetown County at 32.4%.

Richardson said both natural and vaccine immunity appear to have the same length of time.

“Right now all signs point to the fact that immunity is out there beyond even six months, so that’s great. My overall sense would be they’re probably all equal in length,” Richardson said.

However, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has differing data.

South Carolina State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said on Wednesday that immunity from the vaccine lasts much longer than natural immunity.

Bell said some people with natural immunity have antibodies for less than three months and longer for others.

“We have to be cautious about including those who have natural infection [in immunity numbers], because that does tend to over estimate a portion of the population who have achieved and who will retain immunity to help us with reaching our goal of overall herd immunity,” Bell said.

Richardson said getting vaccinated is the safest way a person can become immune. He says the vaccine has far less long term side effects than the virus itself.

“We have not seen any significant effects of the vaccine locally. I’ve read about them as the folks have in the media, but we have not seen that and we’re up into the tens of thousands of doses here at CMC and not seen that,” Richardson said.

The Mayo Clinic reports that herd immunity differs from each disease. Richardson said vaccines play a big part in getting there.

“In areas where they haven’t seen cases of measles all of sudden they come back because that herd immunity level does fall off. When a significant portion of the patients or people in a population have been vaccinated or have immunity to any disease, the disease has no place to go. It starts to die out,” Richardson said.