Should I meet unvaccinated relatives or friends this Christmas? Expert advice on staying safe

As confirmed Omicron cases rise across the UK, meeting unvaccinated families or relatives this Christmas is a concern for many

This festive season is filled with uncertainty, as numbers of confirmed Omicron cases rise, and we wait to hear about more restrictions.

Much like last Christmas, many people are preparing to spend time with their families and friends by going to get their vaccines and boosters, and sticking to government guidelines.

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But what should you do when you find out some of your friends or relatives are unvaccinated?

For some people, this could be a source of stress. Here’s what you need to know.

Should I meet unvaccinated relatives and friends this Christmas?

What are the current guidelines on meeting others? 

At the moment, the UK government’s guidelines come under Plan B in the winter plan, which includes things like wearing face coverings in public spaces and public transport, working from home where possible, meeting people outside, and testing and self-isolating when needed.

There is not currently any limit to socialising in England, but chief medical officer Chris Whitty has also said not to “mix with people you don’t have to".

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland people have been asked to limit socialising with friends and family, although during the festive season people are allowed to still see their loved ones.

Advice on meeting unvaccinated relatives and friends 

If you’re feeling concerned about meeting your relatives or friends who are unvaccinated, there are a few precautions you can take.

Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, says “given the high Covid-19 rates in the UK, it is prudent to be selective in the choice of whom you would like to meet over the Christmas period.

“The more people you meet, the more likely it is to become infected and spread the disease. Reducing contacts and only meeting those most dear to you reduces Covid-19 spread, independently of whether people are vaccinated or unvaccinated.

“When you meet others, you can reduce the risk of transmission by the measures that we are all familiar with. Regular testing for a Covid-19 infection reduces the likelihood of unknowingly infecting others. Moreover, we can wear face masks, keep our distance, ensure proper ventilation, and be careful with regard to hygiene measures as much as possible.”

Sticking to government guidelines should reduce the risk of catching Covid even if there are concerns about transmission from unvaccinated relatives or friends.

Similarly, pharmacist Abbas Kanani from Chemist Click advises: “As long as you are vaccinated, the risk to you is minimised, especially if you have had the booster. However, for their safety, my professional advice would be to avoid meeting them.

“For unvaccinated individuals, Covid can be dangerous, especially if the person in question has pre-existing medical conditions. If you still wish to go ahead and meet with unvaccinated individuals, providing government guidelines at the time permit parties to meet, try to do it in an outdoor space, maintain social distance, and ensure all parties are wearing a mask.”

Having anxious thoughts of mixing with unvaccinated friends or relatives is a normal concern and can be addressed before a reunion.

How to reduce your anxiety

Sarah Kennefick (MBACP) is a Birmingham based psychotherapist who specialises in working with anxiety and depression.

On the topic of meeting with unvaccinated friends and family, she says “people need to make their own decisions based on their personal situations.

“If people have decided to meet up with family or friends but feel anxious about that I’d suggest checking in before with family they are due to meet to let them know about their anxiety. They could then where possible request additional Covid safe measures such as ventilation, no physical contact etc.”

There is more you can do to help reduce the feeling of anxiousness around meeting unvaccinated friends and relatives: adopting mindfulness techniques and being aware of what you can control can help reduce the levels of anxiousness.

“I would also recommend increasing exercise over the holiday period,” Kennefick says. “Adopting relaxation mindfulness techniques such as regulating breathing and reassuring self talk as an antidote to the fear such as ’I’m safe, I’m ok’.

“There is a lot of fear around so avoid too much listening to the news and reassure ourselves that we are in so much more of a better place with vaccination in place and the huge rollout of boosters.”

What other steps can you take? 

There are a few personal measures you can take if you are anxious or worried about meeting unvaccianted friends or family members.

Following government guidance could mean meeting friends in open spaces such as parks if possible, and taking lateral flow tests to ensure you’ve got a negative result before meeting up and self isolating if necessary.

For many people, the safer route may be meeting friends via video link. Professor Michaelis says: “People have to make their own informed choices on whom they want to meet and under which conditions they want to meet them.”

Whatever you decide to do this festive season, it’s important to understand your own boundaries and the terms in which you would like to meet unvaccinated friends and family members.

The experts agree that, in situations you can’t control, getting tested and vaccinated is the best protection for you and your loved ones.

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