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St. Louis doctors urge residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine before holiday gatherings

St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis area doctors are encouraging residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine before visiting family or going to holiday gatherings.

Doctors and health officials in the St. Louis region are urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine before seeing family over the holidays.

Concerned doctors are worried about the potential surge in coronavirus cases.

St. Louis County health officials say people should take increased precautions since the omicron variant of the virus was found in St. Louis earlier this month. It can spread more easily than earlier variants.

People should encourage others to get the vaccine or booster shot before gathering for holiday parties or visiting with family, said Dr. Kanika Cunningham, associate medical director of Family Health Care Centers.

“Make sure everyone is vaccinated who wants to come over, complete with both dosages,” Cunningham said. “If you're gathering indoors, if there's elderly or if there's younger children who are unvaccinated, make sure that it's a well-ventilated area and still wear a mask indoors.”

Federal, state and local health officials also are encouraging those who have been vaccinated to get booster shots.

They say that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is circulating widely and that the vaccine can help protect people against it.

“It would prevent death, prevent hospitalization, severe disease, so that's one huge plus,” Cunningham said. “Now with breakthrough cases coming through, we're still seeing more symptoms: a runny nose, congestion, fever, cough, shortness of breath. We're still seeing it.”

People who travel by plane should wear a mask when in airports, even when walking through terminals or inside restaurants, say officials at the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“If you're traveling, I highly recommend getting tested regularly before and after exposure so that even if you test positive, you can take actions quickly and make sure that the people around you and your loved ones know,” said Nebu Kolenchery, the department’s communicable diseases response director.

Cunningham said those who suspect they have been exposed to the coronavirus should be tested. She recommends a PCR test if available but said people can also try an at-home, over-the-counter test, which is cheaper and faster.

She said anyone who is not vaccinated should avoid large groups over the holidays.

“Definitely consider getting your vaccine,” Cunningham said. “A lot of the cases, the hospitalizations and deaths and severe disease, were from those who were unvaccinated."

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Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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