COVID-19: Holidays Approaching, Virus Still Present


Last updated 10/29/2021 at 11:07am

As the holiday season goes into full gear in the coming weeks, the coronavirus and its variants are not going away any time soon.

Many are still encouraged to take the proper precautions, to mask up or to get vaccinated.

In comparison with being locked up last holiday season and not being able to fully gather, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its official public guidance for this year’s holiday season.

On Oct. 14, the CDC offered general advice on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC’s recommendations urge people to get vaccinated ahead of the holidays if they have not done so already. For young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, the recommendations suggest reducing risk of exposure by making sure the people around them are vaccinated.

The CDC also recommends that people continue to wear masks indoors in public spaces.

“We fully expect that families and friends will gather for the holidays this year and we have updated our guidance on how to best to stay safe over the holidays,” the agency wrote in a statement. “The best way to minimize COVID risk and ensure that people can safely gather is to get vaccinated or get the booster if you’re eligible.”

In 2020, the CDC guidance warned against traditional trick-or-treating by knocking on doors and instead suggested individually wrapped goodie bags that families could “grab and go” from a distance.

This year, the CDC doesn’t provide holiday-specific advice, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she thinks trick-or-treating can be done safely if kids stay outdoors and stick to small groups.

When it comes to big family gatherings, the CDC suggests “additional precautions” such as testing in advance or avoiding crowded indoor spaces before making the trip.

Health officials are again warning caution ahead of this holiday season so cases don’t spike again, although vaccines have made gatherings considerably safer.

On Oct. 15, the Food and Drug Administration panel endorsed the Johnson & Johnson boosters for adults at least two months after their first dose.

J&J told the FDA that an extra dose adds important protection as early as two months after initial vaccination, but that it might work better if people wait until six months later. However, the FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that the booster should be offered at least two months after people got their earlier shot.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study of different ways to “mix and match” different shots showed that a booster of any sort revved up people’s levels of virus-fighting antibodies – at least for a few weeks. And the most dramatic jump came from giving a Pfizer or Moderna shot after the single-dose J&J vaccination.

FDA’s advisers didn’t vote on whether that should be recommended, but told the government to allow flexibility with boosters, saying there were no safety red flags even if it’s not yet clear just how much difference, if any, mixing and matching may make in long-term protection.

The government says all three U.S. vaccines continue to offer strong protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and that the priority is getting first shots to the 66 million eligible but unvaccinated Americans who are most at risk. But with the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant and signs of waning immunity against milder infections, the nation is moving toward a broader booster campaign.

The vast majority of the 188 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while J&J recipients account for only about 15 million.

The J&J vaccine was highly anticipated for its one-and-done formulation. But its rollout earlier this year was hurt by a series of troubles including manufacturing problems and some rare but serious side effects including a blood clot disorder and a neurological reaction called Guillain-Barre syndrome. In both cases, regulators decided the shot’s benefits outweighed those risks.

On Oct. 22, the CDC cleared booster shots of Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, giving people the freedom to mix and match any of the three vaccines approved for use in the U.S.

Booster shots have been a contentious topic for scientists – in and outside the government – especially as many people in the U.S. and other parts of the world have yet to receive even one dose of a vaccine. The World Health Organization has pleaded with wealthy countries to hold off on distributing boosters, and some scientists say they aren’t convinced most Americans need them right now.

President Joe Biden’s administration hopes giving the U.S. population additional doses will ensure long-term and durable protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death as the fast-moving delta variant continues to spread and change. A newly discovered mutation of delta is being investigated in the U.K. amid worries that it could make the virus even more transmissible and undermine COVID vaccines further.

“None of us individually can exactly predict what may happen next, and none of us individually can know exactly what to do,” Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director told the panel. “Please know that I am here listening and eager to learn from your perspective.”

The National Institute of Health study found that people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced stronger antibody levels after they got booster shots made by Moderna or Pfizer, compared to boosters from Johnson & Johnson. The study published has not been peer reviewed.

Allowing mixing and matching could alleviate supply issues, make the task of getting a booster simpler for Americans and allow people who may have had adverse reactions to the initial dose to try a different shot.

Even with all the approvals, many parents and employees are still pushing back against the vaccine mandates across San Diego County. Protests have been held, as parents choose to keep their kids out of school. Parents have cited that this vaccine is “brand new technology,” and they want “freedom of choice.” Some added that they are not “anti-vax” like they are being called, but “right to choose.”

Federal regulators are expected to green light shots for kids as young as 5 in early November. The dose of the Pfizer pediatric shot is a third smaller than the dose given to adults, but would still require two shots three weeks apart. And like adults, a child would not be considered immunized until two weeks after their second shot.

A vaccine for infants and children under age 5 isn’t expected until early 2022.

Students K-12 will be required to get the COVID shot to attend school in person starting the semester after the FDA gives full approval for its use for those age groups, which could be as soon as early next year, Governor Gavin Newsom announced in early October. Teachers who previously had the option to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19, must get the shot too. It is unclear of how districts will follow this mandate.

Religious and medical exemptions will be allowed under both the state and county’s plan. Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be forced to complete an independent study course at home.

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