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Home for the Holidays? 5 Ways to Protect Your Family from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases During the Holiday Season

With an increasing number of people traveling the globe, our world keeps getting smaller and smaller. This is especially true during the holiday season, when an expected seven million Americans will take to the air in the last weeks of the year to celebrate with family and friends. While this makes spending time with far-flung family members much easier, it also increases opportunities for dangerous pathogens to more easily circulate and spread across greater geographic distances.

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And now that three unvaccinated children have been hospitalized with measles after traveling with their family through the Los Angeles and Denver International Airports—where an estimated 360,000 travelers were also traveling—the potentially dangerous consequences of our highly connected world cannot be ignored. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your family from dangerous—sometimes deadly—diseases. Below is a list of five ways to protect your family during the holidays—all centered on one important action: vaccination!

1. Protect newborns through cocooning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all family members, create a circle of protection around a newborn. Newborn babies do not have fully developed immune systems and cannot yet receive certain vaccines, making them particularly vulnerable to infections. “Cocooning” is a vaccination strategy to protect infants and other vulnerable individuals from infectious pathogens by vaccinating those in close contact with them. If the people most likely to transmit a pathogen are immune to it, then that immunity creates a “cocoon” of protection around newborns or other vulnerable individuals. Anyone who is around babies should be up to date on all routine vaccines, including Tdap and flu during the flu season, in order to surround them with protection and keep harmful diseases away.

2. Check your family’s vaccine up-to-date status, especially for flu.

Even if your family gathering does not include cooing over a newborn, make sure all family members, including any visitors, are up to date on all recommended vaccines. This is especially important for protecting grandparents and other seniors with more fragile immune systems. Everyone six months or older should get a flu vaccination.  Seniors and others with chronic medical conditions should get their pneumococcal vaccination. Consult a healthcare provider to see if you are due for any vaccines before visiting family members.

3. Don’t forget maternal immunizations!

If someone in your family is pregnant, help protect their health and the health of their baby by making sure they receive flu and Tdap vaccinations. Recent data show that only 49.1% of pregnant women receive the seasonal flu vaccine. And only 54.4% of women receive the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. (And, if you didn’t know it, pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine during every pregnancy.) Worse yet, only 32.8% of pregnant women receive both Tdap and flu vaccines. Vaccination during pregnancy not only protects the mother, but also provides passive immunity to their newborn.

4. Help curb the spread of measles.

The WHO considers vaccine hesitancy a new global health threat; we’ve seen this play out particularly when it comes to measles, with the U.S. experiencing more than 1,200 cases in 2019—the highest number in nearly 30 years. Don’t be shy about asking if visiting children are up to date with their immunizations, especially measles vaccination.  This is particularly important if there is an infant in your household under the age of one, because it means that they are too young to be vaccinated against measles and must rely on the immunity of those around them (community immunity) for protection.

5. Make handwashing a priority!

The holiday season means that it’s also cold and flu season. The two best ways to protect yourself and your family from flu are to wash your hands frequently with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds and—you guessed it—get your flu vaccine! Handwashing and vaccination are the best ways to protect you and your family from flu and many other dangerous pathogens.

By making sure you, your family and any holiday visitors are up to date on vaccines and practice healthy disease-prevention habits, you can ensure you enjoy a happy, health holiday celebrating with friends and family.

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