Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
The White House has dubbed the time leading up to Thanksgiving as “Holiday Vax Week of Action” to encourage the public to get updated vaccinations.
Currently, the U.S. is behind where health authorities believe the country should be for vaccinations.
Experts recommend prioritizing updated vaccinations to lower your risk of respiratory viruses throughout the winter season.
If you haven’t gotten your updated vaccines this year, now is the time.
The U.S. is on the cusp of the holiday season, but before people travel for Thanksgiving and other winter plans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people to get vaccinated.
This year, there are shots available to fight COVID-19, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). But vaccination numbers are not where experts would like them to be by this time of the year.
Because of this, the White House is marking this time before Thanksgiving as a Holiday Vax Week of Action.
The goal is to encourage everyone—especially older people and children—to get their COVID, flu, and/or RSV shots as soon as possible, Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Health.
“We know when we get to Thanksgiving, people are going to travel, they’re going to gather, and that’s when viruses spread,” she said. “Right now is the best time for folks to protect themselves so they can build up those antibodies ahead of the holiday.”
Here’s how the U.S. is currently doing regarding vaccines, and how experts encourage people to plan out their remaining fall vaccination schedule.
Current Vaccination Numbers in the U.S.
It’s typically recommended that people get vaccinated against respiratory viruses by mid-fall, but uptake has been slow this season.
“The best data we have so far has to do with the updated COVID vaccine, and clearly not nearly a sufficient number of people have stepped up to get that updated vaccine,” William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medical Center, told Health.
According to a survey conducted between October 8 and 14, just 7% of adults said they’d received a COVID shot within the last month.
The rate of flu vaccination is similar to what it was in 2021 and 2022, and “everything seems to be on target in terms of distribution and uptake,” Andrew Pekosz, PhD, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Health.
The RSV vaccine, on the other hand, appears to be pacing similarly to COVID shots, but due to distribution issues and a general push for vaccinations, Pekosz expects it's “probably lagging behind [COVID and influenza vaccines] in terms of uptake."
According to Schaffner, transmission of respiratory viruses is expected to increase through November, December, and into January, making now a critical time for people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.
“You want about two weeks to be fully protected,” Cohen said, “which is why we’re doing [the campaign] this week, reminding folks you still have a couple of weeks to get your body to build up as many antibodies as possible ahead of the holidays.”
Getting the Shot as Soon as Possible
With the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of RSV vaccines—one for older adults, and another for pregnant people—there are now three possible shots people may be eligible to get this fall.
The general CDC recommendation is that everyone six months and older get the flu shot, and everyone five years and older get the updated COVID shot.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, the CDC campaign may seem like a tight turnaround. But, it’s possible to check off all three vaccines in one sitting.
Cohen explained that people can talk to their doctor or nurse practitioner if they’re concerned about getting multiple vaccines in one day, particularly if they have an underlying health condition. But, in general, it’s safe and effective to get multiple vaccines at the same time.
“[It’s] really more a matter of convenience,” she said. “If it’s hard to get to your doctor or to the pharmacy to get your vaccines, you may want to get it done in one appointment.”
For most people, these vaccines should be relatively accessible, too. Most people can simply get them at their local pharmacy, Pekosz explained.
People can also visit Vaccines.gov for more information about finding vaccines or accessing free vaccines.
Vaccinations are available through the following options:
COVID: Free through health insurance or free CDC programs
Flu: Free through health insurance, public programs, or Medicare Part B.
RSV: Free through health insurance or Medicare Part D.
Playing Your Part This Fall and Winter
Concerns of growing “vaccine fatigue” coupled with numerous shots this fall could be difficult for health officials.
But Schaffner said some Americans just need a bit of a push to get vaccinated.
There’s “a large group of folks who will need more information, need reassurance, need to be comfortable, need some persuasion,” he said. “They’re the people we hope to move. And it would be ideal if they did so before Thanksgiving.”
Beyond simply getting the word out, it’s important to emphasize that the COVID and flu viruses have changed since last year.
People often say, “‘Well, I’ve been vaccinated, or I’ve had COVID before.’ But the important thing to remember is that this virus has changed, and you want the most up-to-date protection,” said Cohen.
Another way to overcome vaccine fatigue or hesitancy is to focus on changing people’s attitudes—vaccination is necessary if people want to protect not just themselves, but also their families and communities, Schaffner explained.
“I think there’s a lot of people who get the flu vaccine but won’t get the COVID vaccine. And there really is no reason why you should do that,” Pekosz said. “[COVID] is a serious disease and we need to start thinking about it a little bit more like we think about influenza.”
Though the CDC is focusing on pushing vaccinations right now, there are other tools that the country will have to utilize to safely get through the winter respiratory virus season.
“It’s never too late,” said Cohen. “A week from now or even two weeks from now, get vaccinated. The important part is protecting yourself ahead of this season. And so we have the tools to do it. We just need to use those safe, effective tools.”
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