COVID-19 vaccines are finally available for all U.S. residents age 16+. While we collectively work towards beating this pandemic by getting vaccinated, there is one population that will remain unprotected by the vaccine in the immediate future – children. So as we await the clinical trials to be completed for children under 16, how do families proceed when parents are fully vaccinated but children are not? Dr. Sandra Kesh, Deputy Medical Director and Infectious Disease Specialist shares general guidelines around how to navigate the current circumstances and make the best of the coming summer months.
How should parents navigate social situations where all the adults are vaccinated, but none of the children are?
In this scenario, the vaccinated adults are protected against infection that might be carried by the children. An important caveat: breakthrough infections (where a vaccinated person gets infected) are rare, but may occur. New data suggests breakthrough infections occurred in 5,814 vaccinated individuals, but that number is dwarfed by the vast majority of the 75 million individuals vaccinated in the U.S. to date, who have not been infected. What this all means is that there is still risk, even in vaccinated adults, of contracting the infection. This does not worry me too much, because the vaccines appear to provide strong protection against severe infection (the main goal), but is important to consider when making decisions about socializing outside of your household.
Do children need to keep wearing masks in these situations?
As hard as this is to always enforce, I do think it is the safer way to go while we wait for vaccines for children. This is especially true when socializing indoors, and if any member of the child’s household has not been fully vaccinated or is at high risk for severe infection (e.g. older grandparents). Remember, kids are often mildly affected or asymptomatic. They may look and feel fine, but can still swap germs, and bring them home to you. Once the entire household is vaccinated, I’d feel much better about doing away with the masks.
Can unvaccinated children see their vaccinated grandparents?
Yes, this is a wonderful reason to get vaccinated. I would still encourage mask use, especially when socializing indoors and if the child is exposed to other children at school, but these visits can and should happen! This has been a particularly trying year for our grandparents, and vaccination allows us to resume the family visits that mean so much to them.
Can children socialize with their peers the way they used to?
Although we are making great strides toward ending this pandemic with vaccination, I do think it’s premature to resume our pre-COVID socialization practices. Mask use isn’t always easy to enforce with our kids, but should still be encouraged with indoor gatherings. I worry less about outdoor events, especially if smaller groups are involved and distancing is possible. The situation will look better once vaccines are available for children, hopefully by early next year.
What about school? Do you think children will be able to go to school without masks in the fall?
It’s very unlikely that children will be mask-less in schools this fall. I expect to see these types of changes once we have vaccines for children, and more herd immunity in the population.
How soon do you think we can stop with the endless precautions, masking and outdoor only gatherings?
Once we have enough people vaccinated in our communities to break the cycle of transmission, we will be able to relax our efforts. The end of the pandemic is completely in our control, we just need people to get vaccinated. If you have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19, talk to your doctor or visit our COVID-19 Resources Webpage.