If You're Vaccinated, Do This 3 Days Before Gathering (No, It's Not Testing)
Virus experts say this COVID precaution should be taken ahead of the holidays.
Last year, most virus experts strongly recommended against holiday gatherings as COVID was circulating with no vaccine available. But in 2021, even top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has given his blessing for celebrations to go forth, especially for people who are fully vaccinated. In the time since millions of families got together for Thanksgiving, however, a new variant has caused more uncertainty for the Christmas holiday. The Omicron variant, which was first detected on Nov. 24, has already made its way to all but five states in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And with the agency warning that this variant is spreading rapidly and causing breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, many are asking themselves if they should cancel Christmas celebrations once again.
During a Dec. 17 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box, Fauci said that it is still safe for vaccinated people to gather for the winter holidays, even amid the Omicron variant. But if you've secured your shots, you will still want to take some additional safety precautions this year—especially in the days leading up to a holiday gathering.
Leana Wen, MD, a medical analyst and former Baltimore City health commissioner, told CNN that vaccinated people should consider quarantining for at least three days before visiting and gathering with others. If a person is vaccinated, "ideally they leave three days in between, essentially they quarantine in that period, and get tested again," especially before visiting any older or immunocompromised individuals, Wen said.
These extra precautions among vaccinated people are important because Omicron is causing "a lot of breakthrough infections" right now, according to Fauci. Growing research is suggesting that most COVID vaccines offer no protection against symptomatic infections with the new variant, The New York Times recently reported. While all vaccines still seem to provide significant protection against severe COVID, even with Omicron, only Pfizer and Moderna shots reinforced by a booster appear to have some ability to stave off infections altogether.
Vaccinated people might end up experiencing only asymptomatic infection or mild illness, but they can still pass the virus to unvaccinated people and those at high risk for severe COVID. An Oct. 29 study published in The Lancet found that even vaccinated people with little to no symptoms could transmit the virus to other people in their household.
"People with vaccine breakthrough infections may spread COVID-19 to others," the Mayo Clinic confirms. However, the health organization notes that some research has shown that "it appears that vaccinated people spread COVID-19 for a shorter period than do unvaccinated people."
Other experts are also advising people take a COVID test before gathering to ensure a safe holiday. Eileen Knightly, RN, chief nursing officer at OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park, Illinois, said that even those fully vaccinated and boosted should test themselves if they're getting together with people they do not live with. According to Knightly, you should be testing very close to the time you're going to gather and everyone attending should also test themselves.
"We had a significant surge after Thanksgiving so I think it's going to be really important for everyone to be all in. I think this is something that everyone has to do," she said. "If everyone isn't all in, you could end up in a bad situation at a family gathering when you didn't need to be."
The CDC also endorses some type of quarantining and testing before the holidays, particularly if you're planning to travel and gather with a large group.
"If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you could consider additional precautions (e.g., avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel, taking a test) in advance of gathering to further reduce risk," the CDC recommends.