Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has some encouraging news for many of us hoping to see our families and friends this holiday season: Vaccinated people can feel comfortable getting together with loved ones for the holidays. Even if you need to travel to do it!
“If you’re a vaccinated person, your family is vaccinated, and you are in a situation where the people that you interact with are vaccinated, you can have a very good holiday,” Dr. Fauci told The New York Times podcast The Daily on November 12. What’s more, he added: “I believe that people can and should travel during the holidays.”
If the idea of getting on an airplane or other major form of transportation still seems risky, Dr. Fauci assuaged those fears as well. “Getting on a plane is not really that much of a risk. It’s the whole process of traveling and interacting and mingling with people,” he explained. This is why vaccinated people should continue to “follow the CDC recommendations and wear a mask,” he said.
Again, Dr. Fauci’s guidance that it’s okay to (safely!) gather and travel is intended for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. “It is very, very clear that the overwhelming burden of infection, hospitalization, and death is weighted towards the unvaccinated,” Dr. Fauci explained. Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, NPR reported in September, and are of course more likely to spread COVID-19 to others.
This is all well and good if the loved ones you’re yearning to see are actually all vaccinated. But…what if they aren’t? For instance, many kids are still too young to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. In that case, Dr. Fauci said, “The best way to protect unvaccinated [children] is to surround them with vaccinated people who are unlikely to spread [COVID-19] to them.”
There are other safety steps you can take if you’ve decided you’re comfortable seeing unvaccinated loved ones this holiday season. (Or if you have unvaccinated kids you’d like to take to a gathering.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines these safety guidelines, which you likely already know by heart: Wear a mask and have those who are unvaccinated wear masks as much as possible. Do your best to keep several feet of distance when unmasked. Have guests get tested beforehand, and even try to hold the gathering outdoors if the weather allows for it where you’ll be. These recommendations might feel annoying and burdensome to follow, especially this far into the pandemic. But they’re still important.
Although COVID-19 infections have been declining in recent weeks, the rate of decline has slowed, as SELF previously reported. And a potential uptick in infection has consequences for vaccinated people too. “As that uptick occurs, and you get more infections, and more dynamics of infection spread in the community—that would put even the vaccinated at more risk,” Dr. Fauci explained. The more infection spreading in a community, the more likely a vaccinated person is to come into contact with it, potentially get a breakthrough COVID-19 case, and possibly continue to spread the virus to others.