How Immunocompromised Experts Will Celebrate Another Pandemic Holiday


Many experts said they were not comfortable traveling unless they could drive their own cars. But those who had braved crowds in airports, for instance, said that they tried to minimize the risks with things they can control, like when and where they unmask.

“I try to avoid eating in the airport, and when I’m on the plane I usually bring my own food and eat quickly,” said Dr. Steven Pergam, an infectious-disease physician-scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who takes care of cancer patients and is on immunosuppressive drugs himself as a result of a kidney transplant in 2003.

Once he’s at his destination, Dr. Pergam heads quickly to his hotel room rather than mingling in the hotel bar or lobby. Others said that they picked outdoor activities at their destinations, or minimized the number of people they met with.

Along with the risks and benefits of various activities, people who are immunocompromised often have to consider how many holidays they have left to celebrate, said Dr. Kari Krenzer, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha who has been flying to visit her husband while he gets treatment for leukemia at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He has also flown a handful of times to be with family, and the couple will make a trip to New York to see their youngest daughter perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“We’ve kind of had to strike a balance between safety and making memories,” she said.

When Dr. White considers taking part in social gatherings, especially indoor ones, a factor that tips the balance in favor of attending is the vaccination status of everyone else in the room. She recently attended a bat mitzvah because the hosts had requested that everyone be vaccinated and boosted and take a rapid test the day of the event. “But there are other upcoming events that I will be declining because similar precautions are not in place,” Dr. White said. She and her family have decided to keep Thanksgiving small and close to home this year, yet again.

This will be the first Thanksgiving that Kelly Hills, a biological risk expert and a founder of the consulting firm Rogue Bioethics, plans to travel since the start of the pandemic. Ms. Hills has an autoimmune condition, and though she is getting on an airplane she, too, will limit time spent indoors with larger groups. Many experts interviewed for this article said they would not eat indoors at restaurants even if they were away from home, because people in public settings might not be vaccinated. Nearly all of them said they had not been to a movie theater, seen live music or participated in other favorite indoor activities since the pandemic began.

“All of these choices on how to protect yourself against society, they all cost money, and they all take time and effort,” Ms. Hills said. “And those are the three things that you tend to have the least amount of when you are at the poorest levels of society, as many disabled and immunocompromised people are,” she said, adding that she considered herself privileged to be able to decide whether to travel and how.



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