Nurse applying vaccine on patient’s arm using face mask

By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO

With over half of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated against COVID, this holiday season offers the chance once again, to get together with friends and loved ones. However, Dr. Greg Schranck, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine cautions that we aren’t quite yet out of the woods when it comes to COVID. He told the AFRO, “It is definitely still active in our community and over the past one to two weeks, we’ve even started to see some trends that it’s again on the rise with cases and more hospitalizations occurring in the state of Maryland due to COVID 19 infections.”

Schrank believes there are things we should still be doing in order to make sure that we and those family and friends with whom we spend the holiday season are safe. “The biggest difference between last year and this year is now that we have access to safe and effective vaccines. So the best way to make sure that we are having safe holiday get-togethers is for everybody that’s there, that’s eligible to be vaccinated, be vaccinated.”

Schrank explained that this is not supposed to be one hundred percent foolproof against contracting COVID 19. He pointed out, however, that “The vaccine helps to more quickly eliminate the infection from the body if you are infected, potentially decreasing the amount of the virus that spreads from you to others, if you happen to be infected after vaccination.”

For those making holiday travel plans confident in the knowledge that they are vaccinated, Dr. Schrank advises that they too, have reason to be careful. Schrenk explains that the efficacy of the vaccines begins to wane within months and the lessened potency is more marked for older people and those with compromised immune systems, such as those who have had chemotherapy for cancer.

To combat the weakened effect of the first shot, Dr. Schranck advises getting a booster, which is now authorized for all adults. “The data around booster doses for vaccines is very promising,” stated Dr. Schrank, “It really seems to supercharge the human immune system back to a very high level of protection, even against the Delta variant, and does so more quickly than the first two doses of the vaccine.”

Other than getting the vaccine there are other things you can do to keep everyone safe, especially if there will be older family members or family with compromised immune systems at the festivities. Since good air circulation helps lessen transmission, a good air purifier is advisable. “There are many different types of HEPA filters or air purifiers that can be purchased online. They do require a little bit of research but there are portable air filters and air purifiers that can help to filter out some of the particles that the virus attaches itself to,” Schrank stated. He added a caveat stating, “I would still not at all look at that as a substitute for vaccination because vaccination absolutely is the best way to help prevent serious illness and transmission of COVID-19.”

Some families will have to deal with unvaccinated relatives who want to join in on the festivities; a situation that should be dealt with directly according to Schrank. “Those are uncomfortable conversations to have, but you have to acknowledge the risk.”

One helpful thing to do is having that family member test for COVID immediately before getting together would help in such situations. “They can use one of the rapid tests you can get from the drug store and if they test negative and have no symptoms it lessens some of the risk.”

Even if they test negative they still are a danger for high risk people. “If your holiday get-together includes those who either have a compromised immune system or are small children, even if they’ve been vaccinated, they’re still at risk. So there is the question of should an unvaccinated person be allowed to join.”

When out of the home such as traveling on planes and railroads, after being vaccinated, masking and diligent hygiene are still the most effective methods of preventing COVID transmission, but not all masks are created equal. “The science tells us that a snug fit of a mask is very important.” Also important is layers and filtration. Stated Dr. Schrank, “KN95 masks or N95 masks have many layers to them that help prevent the virus and the particles it’s attached to, from being breathed in.”

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