Thanksgiving – A Time for Family and for Learning

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Next week is Thanksgiving, and it might be the most normal Thanksgiving since 2020. I remember, as I’m sure you do, that the COVID Thanksgivings were not fun. Even in 2022, many of us were still hesitant to gather together. With the fall temperatures pushing us indoors and the closeness of large groups gathering together, COVID was still on our minds last year. The last thing grandparents wanted, even if their family went over the river and through the woods to get to their house, was to find out that their Thanksgiving gathering was the cause of someone getting COVID. Being able to get together once again, as we did in the good old days prior to 2020, should give us all the chance to renew one of the great traditions in our country.

Lest we think we can throw caution to the wind, let me talk a little about something that should have been part of our fall tradition, getting our recommended vaccinations. While there are many vaccines that we need to stay current on, I’m going to talk about four vaccines that we should pay special attention to during the Thanksgiving season.

I think that probably 90% of Americans will have some type of Thanksgiving gathering, but with just a little over 50% of those 65 and older getting their flu shots, there’s a good chance that the flu will be the thing that gets spread around this fall. If somehow, we could get a 100% of those over 65 to get their flu shot, it would cut the flu deaths exponentially, not just in half. And, lest you think what we do won’t have that big of an impact, consider this: the mask wearing and distancing that occurred during COVID had a huge effect on flu infections. According to the CDC, during the period of September 2020 through March 2021 the number of recorded flu cases was 2,000 as opposed to the historical average of 206,000 over the same period. The flu was almost nonexistent. This same type of exponential effect will happen if we reach a critical number of flu vaccinations.

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a fairly new member of the fall vaccinations we need. I’ve only known about RSV for adults for a couple of years, I always thought it was something reserved for young children. It causes flu like symptoms and is dangerous for older people just like the flu. The RSV shot has about the same impact of keeping people out of the hospital, 65%, as the flu vaccine.

While the threat of COVID shouldn’t hinder us from enjoying Thanksgiving, it is still a threat that we should pay attention to. The latest COVID updated vaccine (we shouldn’t call it a booster since it is updated to handle a new variant rather than to boost an earlier vaccine) gives us protection against the latest variant of the virus. Sadly, a significant number of seniors have said they won’t get this updated vaccine. Maybe we are just getting tired of COVID or think that ignoring it will cause it to go away. Well, it won’t. We need to continue to stay vigilant and use every tool in the toolbox to stay healthy. It’s OK to get the flu shot and the COVID update shot at the same time. I did. Officials aren’t sure how the RSV reacts with the flu or COVID vaccines, so it is probably advisable to get the RSV shot alone.

I do need to say something about vaccine hesitancy. The number of people who refuse to take advantage of vaccines has grown. There are certainly people who have had adverse reactions to certain vaccines. While these anecdotal stories capture our attention, we need to remember that the exceedingly small risk of a bad reaction is worth the large benefit of getting vaccinated. It would certainly be a life limiting decision if we decided to never go outside because we feared getting hit by lightning. There is certainly a chance of getting hit by lightning, but a huge percentage of us have decided that living a fuller life is worth that infinitesimal risk. I do understand that fear, even if to some the fear seems illogical, has a definite impact on every one of us. Information and understanding gained from reliable and trusted sources are two ways to overcome fear and allow us to live fuller and more healthy lives.

While it’s important to learn about vaccines that we should take advantage of this time of the year there is one more thing we can do while we are gathered together at Thanksgiving. It is a great time to share historical health information. I don’t mean encouraging grandpa to tell everyone about his latest health problems (heaven knows he doesn’t need any encouragement). What I’m talking about is spending some time talking about the diseases and maladies that are common among your families and their progenitors. I’ve just visited with a friend who years ago was diagnosed with a heart problem that couldn’t be detected with a stethoscope or EKG but only through an echocardiogram. It was serious enough that the doctor encouraged him to alert his siblings and have them checked. It has allowed some of his siblings and their children to be treated for this problem that had been unidentified prior to him alerting them. This sharing of family health information has allowed me to avoid some serious eye problems. Take the time and have someone document your findings. You’ll be amazed at how many common health problems you have among your family and what solutions have been found.

I hope you have a great and NORMAL Thanksgiving celebration and that the good food and good discussion bring you closer to your loved ones.

Best, Thair

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