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Should You Change Your Holidays Plans Because of Omicron?

The holidays are upon us, and with cases of the new COVID-19 omicron variant being detected in several U.S. states (including New York, Colorado, Minnesota, and California), you might be wondering if it’s still safe to get together with your family. Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered this exact question on CNN’s Global Town Hall on Wednesday.

“I would not do anything different than we had been recommending all along, despite the fact that…likely we’ll see more cases of omicron as the weeks and the days go by,” Dr. Fauci said. “If you have a vaccinated situation, your family’s vaccinated, enjoy the holidays indoors with your family in a family setting.” (This tracks so far with what we know about the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19’s omicron variant—and any others.)

That’s true even if gathering with your family requires travel. “Travel always increases, somewhat, the risk of getting infected,” Dr. Fauci explained. He encouraged people to wear a mask in any congregate setting on the way to their destination, like the airport. And “you have to wear a mask when you get on the plane,” he said.

If you’re at least six months out from your second Moderna/Pfizer vaccine, or at least two months out from your Johnson & Johnson shot, “right now is the time to get boosted,” he added.

But what if you or a loved one hasn’t gotten a vaccine yet? “Just get vaccinated as soon as you can,” he said. “The children also—now’s the time to get the 5- and 11-year-olds vaccinated so that when we get into those winter months and we approach the holidays, they’ll at least be partially vaccinated.” Obviously, convincing any hesitant loved ones to get vaccinated before you get together can be much easier said than done. Here are some tips for having that conversation in an empathetic, potentially more effective way. But if people you want to gather with for upcoming holidays (or any other time) just aren)t going to get vaccinated before then, you’re probably already engaging in the exact risk calculus and safety planning needed to determine what level of contact you’re comfortable with and in which settings. Being fully vaccinated and boosted yourself will help keep you safer in that kind of situation.

Experts are still determining how easily the omicron variant spreads and how effective current vaccines will remain against it, as SELF previously reported. “Our experience with variants…is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn’t specifically directed at.” Dr. Fauci explained in a White House press briefing on Wednesday. “And that’s the reason why we feel, even though we don’t have a lot of data on it, there’s every reason to believe that that kind of increase that you get with the boost would be helpful at least in preventing severe disease of a variant like omicron.”

What we do know is that the delta variant is already here, causing thousands of new cases and deaths each week—and we already know that the vaccines work well against that variant. “Get boosted now,” Dr. Fauci said. “We may not need a variant-specific boost.”

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