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Preparing for Pandemic Holidays

Get a flu vaccine and rethink traditions, experts advise, especially for those living with rare and chronic illness.

Small family visits virtually with a family member in front of Christmas tree

You’re not alone if you’re undecided about what to do for the holidays. People all over the world are thinking about what the 2020 holiday season will be like. The last quarter of the calendar year is normally a blizzard of celebrations and gatherings, but this year it’s full of questions:

  • Will it be safe to travel?
  • Is it OK to host dinners and parties?
  • And for those who live with a rare or chronic disease, how can friends and family connect in a safe way?

Another question: Should you get a flu vaccine? The answer is yes, said Dr. Gregg Sylvester, Chief Medical Officer of CSL’s influenza business, Seqirus. In the Northern Hemisphere, holiday time is also influenza season, so people are at risk for getting the flu as well as COVID-19,

“The flu shot is important every year, but it’s doubly important this year,” said Dr. Sylvester. “We need to minimize the burden of flu in our healthcare system and keep the beds open for those who are going to need them due to COVID-19.”

Those living with a rare or chronic disease are finding themselves altering plans to stay safe. But a fulfilling holiday is still possible, said Karen Skålvoll, who has alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, which affects the lungs and breathing. Skålvoll, who lives in Germany, typically marks the holidays with family gatherings and visiting the German holiday markets. But she already has made a change of plans.

“There will be the two of us and the dogs,” Skålvoll said. “We will wear face masks when we’re out and shop online. Walks in the woods, making food together and doing puzzles are how we plan to celebrate this year.”

Dr. Mittie Doyle, CSL Behring’s Vice President, Clinical Research and Therapeutic Area Strategy, Immunology, hopes at-risk patients, including the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, will set two priorities this holiday season. First, they should be extra diligent about following treatment plans, taking their medicine as prescribed and keeping in touch with their doctors. Second, they should seek out creative ways to stay connected while also staying healthy.

“Technology can help with this. It’s a good time to further explore how virtual platforms like Facetime and Zoom can bring loved ones together,” Doyle said.

For those who will visit in person, the World Health Organization (WHO) offers guidance on small gatherings and recommends checking local regulations before attending an event. WHO also offers public health considerations when traveling. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that, “When planning to host a holiday celebration, you should assess current COVID-19 levels in your community to determine whether to postpone, cancel or limit the number of attendees.”

The CDC also offers guidelines and a list of tips to help in your holiday gathering decision-making. Wearing masks, cleaning hands often, encouraging loved ones to stay home if they are sick and limiting the number of people handling or serving food are among the things to remember, the CDC says.

For Skålvoll, an enjoyable holiday season is still possible, despite the pandemic.

“We need to adapt and adjust our lives. We get to have a different holiday season and maybe we realize that all the glitz and spending are not necessary,” she said. “I think most people will enjoy safely spending time with friends and family more than ever. It will be a different holiday season, but a good one.”