By Maria Medina

SAN JOSE (KPIX) – As the highly transmissible UK variant drives a spike in COVID cases in several states, particularly Michigan, one expert in California believes the Golden State may not see the same surge.

“Michigan’s trouble, trouble,” said Prof. of Epidemiology George Rutherford. “It’s all due to the British variant.”

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Michigan now has the highest cases per capita in the nation.

But Rutherford said vaccinations, California’s stringent public health orders and the California variant make it unlikely for a similar surge in the state.

“They’re (the West Coast variants) about 20 percent more transmissible, but the UK variant is about 50 percent more transmissible,” Rutherford said. “That’s why I like the explanation that the California variants are going to keep the UK variant down.”

Meanwhile, a Johnson & Johnson manufacturing issue is to blame for a 33 percent drop in the vaccine supply to California this and next week, which threatens the state’s progress.

“If the UK variant expands and we’re not getting enough vaccine then we can be in trouble,” said Rutherford.

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But the professor said he believes vaccine production will ramp up soon.

Santa Clara County health officials are racing to vaccinate residents to get ahead of the virus and its variants, as well as pushing for more COVID testing. The county has seen a 34 percent drop in testing in the last two months.

“Testing is so very important as a public health tool along with vaccines,” Dr. Marty Fenstersheib told county supervisors last week. “We really, really have to continue to do all our preventative measures, including being tested.”

Despite the challenges, Rutherford predicts California may reach herd immunity by June 15, which is the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced the state could fully reopen and get rid of its colored tiers as long as hospitalizations remained low.

Rutherford believes herd immunity by mid-June is even more of a possibility if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech approval for its COVID vaccines to be given to children 12 years and older. If approved, vaccines could be the arms of adolescents in the coming weeks.

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“I think it’s a realistic goal,” Rutherford said of herd immunity by June. “I think it’s a pretty safe bet that things will be looking good by June 15 if we continue to get vaccines.”