Now’s the Time to Get Older Family Members Vaccinated If You’re Seeing Them for Thanksgiving

As the holiday season ramps up, it can be tempting to skip a few items on your to-do list. After all, gathering with loved ones takes a lot of work & preparation: confirming everyone’s on the same page about where & when to meet, planning who will bring what dishes, & making sure you have all your groceries in before the Thanksgiving shopping rush. A few things are bound to slip through the cracks, so consider this a reminder to make sure the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine isn’t one of them.

If you’re planning on seeing loved ones for Turkey Day, you really shouldn’t put off getting vaccinated—& helping older family members or those with limited mobility get their boosters too—any longer. Why? Because it can take up to 14 days for our bodies to build up maximum protection from the new boosters, which are more effective at fighting highly infectious omicron variants than previous COVID-19 vaccines, per the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). “The shot is a stimulus to your immune system,” William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at V&erbilt University Medical Center, tells SELF. “The immune system has to rev up. And then, when it gets going, it produces antibodies, those protective proteins that circulate in the blood. But that takes a little time.”

For this reason, Dr. Schaffner adds, you should go ahead & get your booster this week if you’re going to roll up to a big indoor gathering on Thanksgiving Day. But don’t stop there, he says: You should make sure that everyone attending plans to do the same.

As SELF has previously reported, a shockingly low number of Americans have received the updated booster so far: just 7.3%, per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The numbers are even bad among the over-65 crowd—only about 20% of them have received a bivalent booster. Given that people in this age group are at much higher risk across the board—more likely to require a ventilator; more likely to spend time hospitalized &/or in the intensive care unit; & more likely to die should they get COVID-19—it’s even more important that they get vaccinated ASAP.

Getting the vaccine may be particularly difficult for people who aren’t tech savvy (since it might be challenging for them to locate a nearby pharmacy & make an appointment online) &/or anyone who can’t leave their home easily. So when you text the group chat to make sure everyone’s up-to-date, ask if anyone (or anyone’s parents) needs assistance getting their booster. “There are so many people who are disabled or homebound,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Ask: How can we get them the booster?”

If you live far from home & can’t physically take your parents or other loved ones to get boosted this week, try contacting their local health department. “Many health departments [set up] home vaccination services,” Dr. Schaffner explains. Granted, some of these programs have been cut due to lack of funding, he adds, but some are still operational, so it’s worth calling around to see if your family members can get boosted in the comfort of their own homes.

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