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It’s been more than a year since I saw my mother. Like many families, we live quite far apart, and the pandemic has put a stop to our visits. I was going to travel in April last year to celebrate her 90th birthday, instead we shared a toast over the phone and crossed our fingers tightly so that it would be better in the summer. They were not.
A few weeks ago, my mother called to say she had been vaccinated. She is now more than two weeks away from her second dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and what I want to do most is give her a long and delayed birthday hug. But is it really a good idea, since I have not been vaccinated yet? I called several infectious disease specialists for advice on visiting vaccinated elderly friends and relatives. And the answer is not a simple yes or no.
First things first
The vaccines available in the United States are extremely effective, but the protection is not perfect. And given that the virus is still circulating a lot around the country, and several infectious new varieties are starting to spread, it is still better to be careful.
People 65 and older account for 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is why they have been given priority over vaccines. However, older people with weakened immune systems may not respond to them as well, and the FDA has found that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are somewhat less effective in people 65 years and older.
The only thing that will finally reduce the risk of infection will be when the United States reaches flock immunity, which means that the virus is brought down to extremely low levels, and that we can return to normal.
Until then, “You still pose a clear and present danger to your parents,” says Dr. June McKoy, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
A visit can depend on where your loved one lives
“Everyone was excited when the vaccines came out,” said McKoy, a geriatrician working in a Chicago nursing home. “Families hoped this would free their parents, but unfortunately, we tell them, not yet.”
For nursing homes and nursing homes, extra care is guaranteed. This is because people who live there can be frail and have underlying conditions that make them even more vulnerable to serious illness and death. And in a common life situation, an infection can put everyone at risk.
In these settings, it is still safer to meet virtually or outdoors with masks, McKoy recommends. “To get in and really spend time, visitors should be vaccinated.”
Inside the building, residents who have had their two doses will be allowed to come together in small groups and socialize, McKoy says. As long as employees who have not been vaccinated wear masks.
If your relative lives independently, visit carefully
“Isolation in itself is a fairly high risk factor for the elderly,” said Dr. Saad Omer, director of The Yale Institute for Global Health. “So sensible people can have different perspectives on this because it is nuanced and we take assessments.”
Omer says that if his parents were alive, they would have been very worried about being away from their grandchildren for so long, so he believes that something to loosen up after receiving the second dose is reasonable, especially for people who are alive. independent.
Before the visit, double check that the person you are visiting has had two shots, and it is two weeks since the second dose. In that case, it’s OK to visit, McKoy agrees. “You should still wear your mask, make sure your hands are clean and that you still have to be socially distant,” she says.
The vaccine does not restore our normal lives, warns Omer. It’s more like a dimmer switch. After two doses “It’s OK to socialize a little more, but it’s not time for bingo night. It’s not time for square dancing.”
And be careful about squeezing and kissing, says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Wear that mask, give them a quick hug around your waist, and pull yourself back. Do not kiss them too much, and keep your distance,” advises Schaffner.
Take precautions so that you do not become infected
Even if your loved one has been vaccinated, they can still be mildly infected. Remember that the clinical studies only looked at whether the vaccines prevent serious illness, not infection, so that a vaccinated person can unknowingly transmit the virus to you and others. That is why it is so important for people who have been vaccinated to continue wearing the mask, avoiding crowded indoor places and social distance.
“Many people see this as the door that opens out of the locked room,” says Schaffner. “If we can just get vaccinated, we’ll be free. It’s not that easy.”
Until about 80% of people have been vaccinated and we get closer to herd immunity, he encourages people to be happy with “half a loaf of bread.” Limit yourself to a quick visit, take a walk, sit on a park bench, wear your mask.
“Even if your own parents or grandparents are protected, they will not help spread the virus to you or others,” says Omer. So “do not overdo it. Prioritize things you want to do and slowly ease up. It is not the license for large gatherings.”
Especially with the spread of new, more infectious variants and variants that make the vaccines less effective.
Do not travel too far
One thing to consider before deciding to visit is how far you need to travel.
If your relative lives nearby, or is accessible by car, a visit is cheaper, says Omer. You can pack food, eat in the car, limit stops along the way to reduce the chance of infection.
“But if you fly there, there’s another risk,” says Omer. Getting to and from the airport, waiting for check-in lines puts you at risk of infection.
“I do not think it is safe yet,” said Dr. Ravina Kullar, an epidemiologist and spokeswoman for the Infectious Disease Society of America.
Kullar lives in Los Angeles and her mother lives in North Carolina. But she does not plan to visit yet. “I would consider it safer when we achieve that level of immunity in the herds, and we are far from that point,” says Kullar. “So I would say still wait.”
The risk of traveling is not just for you or your relative, it is for the whole community.
The three coronavirus variants that researchers are so concerned about have already been discovered in the United States. The variant that appeared in the UK is about 50% more contagious and is already spreading in at least 33 states. The variant from Brazil has been reported in Minnesota, and the one from South Africa has been found in South Carolina and Maryland – the vaccines may be less effective against both.
And one of the best ways to slow down the spread of these varieties is for people not to travel.
Unfortunately, for me it is ‘do not go’
And so my decision was made. My mother is a 90-year-old dynamo who lives independently – in the northwest of England. If she was closer, I would put on a mask, give her a quick hug, and enjoy the company of the entire room. But at this point in the pandemic, it does not seem like a good idea to travel from the United States to the United Kingdom and back again. So we want to go down and continue our wonderful conversations over the phone. I feel lucky my mother was able to get the vaccine, as so many people around the world are still waiting. And I’m lucky my brother lives nearby. But unfortunately the birthday hug has to wait.