“We might have different levels of herd immunity,” infectious diseases expert Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity with Johns Hopkins Medicine, told HuffPost. “In the future, we might look at something more meaningful than a national level of herd immunity. Because it might not make sense to worry about California if you’re in Buffalo, New York. You might worry about Ontario. It’s almost a question of: Which herd are you going to worry about?”

Ray told HuffPost he is optimistic that we will be in a “lull” in the pandemic this summer, primarily because of vaccination, but also because the virus in the U.S. appears to wane that time of year, for reasons that are not understood. It could simply be that people are more likely to gather outdoors in the summer, where the transmission risk is lower. But ultraviolet light might also play a role.

“Even if we are at a degree of herd immunity right now, it might be situational because of the environment and the coming summer; it might be situational because we have the variants we have right now, but there might be new ones on the horizon because there’s lots of evolution happening every day. And come the fall, we may have a different set of conditions,” Ray said. “The most science-based response to that, I think, is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Because we know that vaccination is highly protective and probably limits spread.”

If, after the summer, case numbers and hospitalizations look like they’re remaining relatively low, it’s safe to imagine that restrictions on mask-wearing, group get-togethers and even indoor gatherings could be relaxed long-term, although that is just speculative at this point.

Also, as we head from the fall into the winter, experts will start to get a clearer sense of how long protection from COVID-19 vaccination lasts — and whether it is necessary to provide booster shots or “retool” the vaccines in any way, as Ray put it.

“We don’t have a test today that if I were to administer it to a patient I’d be able to say: ‘OK, you’re immune right now.’ Or: ‘Oops, now it’s negative so I need to revaccinate you,’” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be approved for children ages 12 to 15 any day now, and older teenagers have been eligible to roll up their sleeves since earlier this spring. And because there may be millions of adult vaccine holdouts, experts increasingly believe that widespread vaccination of children could really shape what comes.

In February, Youyang Gu, an independent data scientist with a popular COVID-19 forecasting model, changed its name from the “Path to Herd Immunity” to the “Path to Normality.” He tweeted about the shift at the time, but told HuffPost it is only being widely talked about recently, as there’s been broader awareness that national herd immunity simply may not happen.

However, he believes the U.S. will return to “normal” — by which he means most states will have lifted all COVID-19 restrictions because hospitalizations and deaths are low enough — sometime this summer, between June and August. So even though the virus will still be circulating, people will largely be back to their pre-pandemic routines.

Last January, the journal Nature polled 100 immunologists, infectious disease experts and virologists about whether they believe the virus could be eradicated. Nearly 90% said they believe it will become endemic, meaning it circulates in pockets globally indefinitely. There could be localized outbreaks in the U.S. and they might be seasonal — waning in the spring and summer and picking up in the fall.

This content was originally published here.

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