Enjoy the Holiday Season and Protect Against COVID-19

As the year 2021 draws to a close and we reflect on nearly 2 years of struggling with COVID-19, Alabama has made progress largely as a result of the deployment of highly effective vaccines which are effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death. Vaccine is widely available and recommended for almost all children and adults age 5 and older. Even so, half of Alabama residents remain unvaccinated and susceptible to the virus.

During the holidays and winter months, people tend to spend more time in close quarters where the risk of exposure to contagious diseases such as COVID-19 is greater. Friends and family may be careless or inconsistent in following prevention measures as they celebrate. Regrettably, the 2020 holiday season ended with a surge of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.

Of paramount importance in preventing COVID-19 is for all eligible individuals to initiate vaccination, complete their primary series, and get a booster shot to protect against this highly contagious virus. Other commonsense mitigation measures include wearing a well-fitting mask in indoor public places, isolating yourself or family members when sick, seeking medical attention if concerned about being infected, washing hands frequently, and ensuring good ventilation.

The emergence of a new variant of concern, Omicron, presents questions such as how transmissible it is, whether it causes severe illness, and how well COVID-19 vaccines work. At this time, it appears that its symptoms are mild, and it is hoped that current vaccines are effective. While mutations may occur, there is reason to believe that the currently available vaccines will provide some level of protection against this new variant as well as any other variants that may be identified.

For people who may still be hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it may be reassuring to know that 195 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and there is more safety data for COVID-19 vaccines than for any other vaccines in history. Some individuals are hesitant because they have recovered from a COVID-19 infection and may have an amount of natural immunity to reinfection. Vaccination is still advised for those who have been previously infected because it is unclear how strong this immunity is and how long it lasts.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all adults age 18 and older who have completed their primary vaccine series get booster shots. People who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible 2 months after vaccination, and those who were vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna products are eligible 6 months after their second shot. Every county health department in Alabama offers COVID-19 vaccine at no charge, so check vaccines.gov for more information.

Remember that the pandemic is not yet over, so carefully consider your actions and be consistent in maintaining good COVID-19 prevention habits in addition to vaccination. During this holiday season, care for others, and keep the health and safety of young children, people of advanced age, and those with underlying risk factors in your family and community in mind. Enjoy the holidays and have a happy and healthy 2022.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(December 2021)