After limited celebrations last year, many families are excited to gather once again. But the arrival of the Omicron variant has proven this pandemic isn’t over yet.

Your Health, Coronavirus Updates | one month ago

A COVID-Safe Holiday Season

Holiday traditions are important for families. After limited celebrations last year, many families are excited to gather once again. But the arrival of the Omicron variant has proven this pandemic isn’t over yet. Atrium Health Vice President and Enterprise Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Katie Passaretti shares some easy ways to spread COVID-Safe holiday cheer.

“Get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re already fully vaccinated, everyone that’s eligible for a booster, I strongly encourage you to get it before Christmas.”

That’s the clear-cut holiday message from Atrium Health Vice President and Enterprise Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Katie Passaretti.

The arrival of the Omicron variant in North Carolina only increases the urgency of her message. Data has shown it spreading rapidly in other parts of the world and now that it’s here in North Carolina, we can likely expect the same. While there are reports that symptoms may not be as severe as those with the Delta variant, it is no reason to let your guard down, especially going into the holiday season.

“It doesn’t really change our recommendations. If you’re getting together with people outside your household, it’s important to make sure those people are vaccinated and boosted,” Dr. Passaretti reiterates.

While each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine offers your body protection against the virus, you aren’t considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after your second dose (or two weeks after receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine). Receiving a booster can offer you a boost in protection against the virus.

The CDC recommends that everyone ages 16 years and older who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should get a booster six months after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccination series. Anyone 18 years and older who received the Moderna vaccine should also get a booster six months later, while anyone 18 and older who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should get a booster two months after their vaccine. The CDC has also said it’s okay to mix-and-match boosters, so the vaccine you got for your first series doesn’t have to be what you choose for your booster. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr. Passaretti suggests you may want to consider one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) for your booster.

“I think increasing data suggests that a booster adds an additional layer of protection,” Dr. Passaretti explains. “If you haven’t gotten your booster yet, there’s still time to do it before traveling for the holidays and get that extra protection.”

That extra protection could be the best gift you give yourself, your family and your friends this year. Gatherings of people who are vaccinated are generally safer and it could actually feel like Christmas again this year, complete with homemade cookies, eggnog and yes, even sneaking a kiss under the mistletoe. But, if you’re going to be celebrating with people who are unvaccinated, you will want to take some extra precautions.

“Yes, we’re still talking about masking indoors,” Dr. Passaretti says. “If you’re getting together with people who are unvaccinated, including kids too young to get the vaccine, wear your mask, keep it brief and maybe skip the meal. Another way to shield the youngest members of your family is to cocoon them by making sure everyone around them is vaccinated. At home tests are also an option ahead of those gatherings and obviously, if anyone is feeling sick, they should stay home.”

It’s also important to remember COVID-Safe behaviors while getting to your holiday destinations. Continue masking and social distancing in airports, hotels and gas stations.

In reality, many of the recommendations from the 2020 holiday season still apply. The big difference this year is that we have vaccines available for everyone over 5-years-old. That gives a great opportunity for added protection for your loved ones. 

Which brings Dr. Passaretti back to where she started.

“This vaccine saves lives. It could save your life or the life of someone you love. What better gift is there than that?”