Now that two COVID-19 vaccines are being widely administered, one wonders if the end of face masks, hand sanitizer and lockdowns is in sight? Not necessarily, but there is some good news, says Barry R. Bloom, Ph.D., a renowned immunologist, vaccine expert and former Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. Professor Bloom was the featured speaker in last Friday’s Gemline-sponsored webinar, "COVID-19 Pandemic: What Promises Do Vaccines Offer?" During the 60-minute Q&A with The Gem Group’s Chair and CEO Jonathan Isaacson, Bloom answered questions about how the vaccines work and what life might look like as people get the vaccination and start to emerge from the pandemic.

He addressed Isaacson’s first question about the new strain of the virus in detail saying that he expects the virus to keep changing. The good news is new technology has enabled manufacturers to make vaccines more quickly—so if the virus changes and becomes resistant to the current antibody response, it would take only six to eight weeks to make a new vaccine to generate the protective antibodies. “Almost no vaccine that we give today is the original version of the vaccine,” he said, noting the nature of how viruses change.

Bloom talked about the differences between the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the integrity of the process and the people administering the vaccines. “If the new vaccines come online and there are no technical breakdowns … and we have enough people to give them, then by September or earlier, everybody who wants the vaccine should be able to get it,” he said.

Below are more questions and a summary of Bloom’s responses:

Am I now immune, if I get the shot? It’s not yet known how long immunity will last, but a new study showed an average of eight months. Getting a vaccine is never a guarantee but he is hopeful it will last at least a year, maybe two and will bring the levels of the virus down so people can, more or less, go about their lives. He emphasized it will continue to be important to be vigilant and careful, especially in places where people have not been vaccinated.

If I get vaccinated and you don’t, am I protected from you? The vaccination provides about 95 percent protection and if you got sick, it would be much milder.

How long are we going to be wearing masks? The answer depends on two questions: how many people will take the vaccines? How much more transmissible are the new variants that are arriving? Since those answers won’t be known until year-end, he said we should continue to take precautions. There shouldn’t be lockdowns, but we have to be on guard and take public health seriously.

Once I get vaccinated, will I be able to go eat in a restaurant? Yes, you’ll have about a 95-percent immunity. You’d feel better if everybody in the restaurant is vaccinated and that’s the basis of herd immunity.

Will schools be able to function in the fall? Bloom said we’ll have to take public health precautions seriously until we are certain the virus is under control. Letting your guard down is not encouraged. The single-most disruptive aspect is putting schoolchildren behind in education. His personal priority would be … to get the school systems organized so when the vaccines become available for that tier, teachers get the protection. Vaccines won’t be available for children until the trials are run.