The holiday season is here, along with concerns about managing COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) during winter gatherings and travel. Health officials are stressing the importance of vaccination to protect yourself and loved ones.
Vaccination Push Ahead of Holidays
With COVID-19, flu and RSV co-circulating this season, health experts are urging people to get vaccinated, especially before holiday travel and gatherings.
“We want everyone to have a happy, healthy holiday so our advice is simple. If you are eligible: get your COVID-19 booster and flu vaccines without delay,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at the UK Health Security Agency via Twitter.
Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky also advised vaccination in a PBS NewsHour interview, saying “What we really want people to do is make sure they’re up to date on their vaccines before they gather…to have optimal protection as families come together.” [source]
US health officials launched the “Get My Flu Shot” campaign in December to promote flu vaccination ahead of holiday gatherings when transmission increases. [source]
Concerns Over Post-Thanksgiving Surge
Health leaders have expressed concerns about a spike in respiratory illness cases following Thanksgiving gatherings and travel.
“We have to be worried about influenza, RSV spiking after these holiday gatherings and people coming home, back to work and back to school,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. [source]
State and local health officials are closely tracking cases and patterns. Areas like Ohio have seen record RSV hospitalization rates for this time of year.
“Certainly travel will increase risk for transmission of these viruses,” said OhioHealth physician Dr. Joseph Gastaldo. He advised getting vaccines, washing hands, and wearing masks to reduce spread. [source]
Holiday Precautions Strongly Advised
Infectious disease experts recommend layering protective measures like vaccination, masking, improved ventilation, and testing when gathering for the holidays.
“The key is what can you do to reduce risk,” said UCLA Medical Center physician Dr. Peter Katona, who advised wearing high quality masks in crowded indoor settings. [source]
Table 1 shows different recommendations for protecting against respiratory illness this holiday season from health organizations and officials:
|COVID boosters, flu shots and other recommended vaccines, allow immune response time before gatherings
|High-quality, well-fitted masks in crowded indoor settings
|Test before gatherings
|Rapid antigen testing to check infection status
|Open windows, use air filters, avoid poorly ventilated rooms
|Practice hand hygiene
|Wash hands frequently, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
|Stay home if sick
|Isolate if experiencing any symptoms to avoid spread
“This is the time for that added level of protection by shoring up ventilation, wearing masks, testing…easy things we can do to keep case counts from accelerating,” said CDC Director Walensky. [source]
Long-Term Outlook Over Winter Months
Health officials anticipate continued surges of flu, RSV and COVID-19 throughout the winter season into 2023. Vaccine uptake remains below desired levels so far.
Promoting emotional messaging around protecting loved ones during gatherings is a CDC campaign strategy to motivate higher vaccination rates. [source]
But pandemic fatigue also persists. A recent poll showed 40% of unvaccinated adults said they will “definitely not” get a COVID booster. [source])
Health systems are preparing for increased hospitalizations due to flu and RSV on top of COVID-19 caseloads. Surge capacity plans account for staffing shortages exacerbating capacity issues. [source]
Ongoing COVID-19 mutation remains a wild card. New variants like Kraken XBB 1.5 currently account for over 30% of US cases and could spur a winter surge. [source]
In the meantime, health organizations emphasize individual actions like vaccination, masking and testing can make holiday gatherings safer amid the triple threat of flu, RSV and COVID-19 this season. Continued vigilance will be necessary to manage winter virus risk.
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