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A recent survey assesses the risk of attending holiday gatherings toward the end of 2021. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
  • Last year, many people in the United States skipped annual in-person holiday gatherings.
  • Now, after nearly 2 years of social distancing, people are poised to join celebrations once again. However, safety remains a priority.
  • According to a recent survey from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, the mood among U.S. adults could best be described as cautious.

For several days beginning in late October 2021, the survey queried 2,047 adults aged 18 years or older in the U.S. The online survey asked about people’s holiday plans this year.

Among other findings, the survey showed that up to half of Americans plan to inquire about their potential guests’ vaccination status.

A similar survey conducted this time last year found that about 67% of respondents intended to request that their guests wear masks. This year’s survey showed that around one-half of adults in the country will make similar requests.

“If everyone in attendance is vaccinated and are without major health risks, you can have a safe, small gathering without a lot of additional precautions,” says Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at Wexner Medical Center. He continues:

“Unvaccinated individuals really pose the greatest threat, and that’s when it becomes necessary to put some rules and precautions in place, even though those conversations can be a little bit awkward.”

In an interview with Medical News Today, Dr. Gonsenhauser said that many respondents to last year’s survey remained determined to hold gatherings of some sort.

The result was somewhat predictable. “We went into a significant surge last year following the holidays,” said Dr. Gonsenhauser.

Of course, last year, vaccines were not yet available to most people. This year, “Many people are hoping they can de-escalate their precautions when guests are vaccinated,” said Dr. Gonsenhauser. He was “pleasantly surprised” by this lingering sense of caution.

To be sure, this year’s survey indicates that U.S. adults are in no mood to quibble when it comes to the risk of COVID-19.

For instance, according to the survey, 72% intend to celebrate solely with members of their own households. About half said that they will inquire into their potential guests’ vaccination status.

These attitudes make sense, according to Dr. Gonsenhauser. “Plain and simple, vaccines work,” he said, confirming that “They’re highly effective.”

“The vaccines that we’ve seen developed for COVID-19 are some of the most effective vaccines that we’ve ever seen in the history of medicine,” he noted, adding, “There’s no debate about that.”

According to the Wexner Medical Center, the following tips will help boost safety during this year’s holiday gatherings:

  • Wear masks.
  • Ask attendees about their vaccination status before extending an invitation.
  • Keep gatherings and celebrations small.
  • Consider celebrating only with immediate family or those already living in your household.
  • For potential hosts — or guests — with elevated health risks, reconsider the gathering or ask beforehand about the vaccination status of guests.

In his interview with MNT, Dr. Gonsenhauser reminded us that COVID-19 is not the only threat on the horizon this holiday season.

“The flu vaccine is as important as ever. We’re expecting a more significant flu season this year than last year.”

Flu vaccines are widely available, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remind us: “Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, with few exceptions.”