Doctors say vaccines, boosters are key for safe gathering during holidays

Health experts are worried that, as the holidays get closer, gathering with loved ones inside could come with more risks, especially for those not vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The people who are most vulnerable are the unvaccinated," said Dr. Anthony Fauci. "When you have a virus as transmissible at delta in the context of waning immunity, that dynamic is going to negatively impact even the vaccinated people. So it's a double whammy."

Meaning, we will start seeing more breakthrough infections.

Experts say the vaccine’s protection against symptomatic infection starts to drop after six to eight months.

"It's preventing a lot of the really severe disease. It's just that people are still getting infected, getting sick," USF Health Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Michael Teng, said.

Here in the sunshine state, COVID cases remain low. But nearly half the country is seeing a big spike, a trend that is expected to continue heading into the holiday season.

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"It is a concern and we're going to have holiday gatherings as well where, you know, people may have waning immunity or you may be in the company of people who are unvaccinated. And this is the way to spread the virus if you're getting into large groups," said Teng.

The race is on to get booster shots in arms. At least four states and New York City have expanded access to all adults.

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That focus on boosters is putting added pressure on the FDA to change its guidelines.  Right now, the extra dose is only recommended for seniors and those at high risk. However, Federal health officials acknowledge, those guidelines are likely to change soon.

"When we look back on this, we will see that boosters are likely a very critical part of the immunization regimen and not a bonus or a luxury," Fauci said.

There is growing acceptance that having a booster COVID vaccine may become the standard for a full vaccination.

"That's kind of what it's looking like, right? With this waning immunity we're seeing, this might actually be a three-dose series, and that wouldn't be unusual. We have vaccines that have three doses, Hepatitis B, for example, is three doses," explained Teng.