Millions of American parents are now partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But for millions of children, that prospect is still a long way off.
While many teens 16 and older can now get vaccinated, and new data from Pfizer suggests that its vaccine is safe and highly effective in children as young as 12, we are likely months away from large swaths of children rolling up their sleeves. .
“Most children are more likely not to be vaccinated until later this year or early next year,” said Steven Abelowitz, a pediatrician at Coastal Kids Pediatrics in Orange County, California. However, he stressed that even the best guesses are “all speculation” at this point.
That means parents have a strange streak of months in store when they suddenly have a lot more protection, but their kids don’t. Here are some basics to keep in mind while browsing that new one (new new?) normal.
First, know that for children, nothing has really changed.
It may feel very different to vaccinate yourself, but remember that COVID-19 precautions for children and other unvaccinated people have not changed in recent months, Abelowitz said.
Kids still need to protect themselves by wearing face masks, avoiding crowds and stuffy indoor spaces, and washing their hands – basically everything we’ve been hearing about and hopefully doing for the past year. One small change: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now say that 3 feet of physical distance is enough to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in schools.
But spending time indoors with vaccinated family members is now safe.
An area where there is has There has been some change in the federal recommendations on how children can interact with fully vaccinated people outside of their homes.
People who have been fully vaccinated can now spend time indoors, and unmasked, with those who have not, as long as unvaccinated people (in this case, children) are not at high risk of serious complications from COVID- 19, according to the CDC.
That means if your child has a beloved adult in their life who is fully vaccinated, they can go ahead and hang out together indoors without you having to worry about getting the virus. (Of course, no one can say there is no risk, but the risk is low, especially now that the CDC says there is ample evidence that fully vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the virus.)
All of this is probably good news for many grandparents, aunts, uncles, and babysitters, and for the children who love them.
Your * mathematical * risk of contracting COVID-19 is lower.
To be clear: don’t get vaccinated directly affect your child’s risk of contracting COVID-19, unless they are breastfeeding, in which case there is growing evidence that parents who are breastfeeding do, in fact, transmit antibodies.
So if, say, your kids are exposed to COVID-19 at school or someone infected coughs up their kids during a flight to a family vacation, their vaccination status does nothing to keep them healthy.
That said, when parents or caregivers are vaccinated, it influences, in a more indirect way, the level of risk for children.
“What we’ve learned through the vast majority of epidemiological studies is that children were infected through their household contacts,” said David Cennimo, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey School of Medicine. “So if the parents are vaccinated, they are very unlikely to bring COVID home.”
“In a total mathematical equation of ‘how protected are they?'”, He continued, “they are much more protected now that you have the vaccine.”
However, we are nowhere near the point where herd immunity would offer them more direct protection.
Do you want to reduce your child’s risk? Ask about vaccination status.
Planning play dates? Are you thinking of family trips? Thinking about camps or extracurricular activities? The same basic concepts that have guided risk-benefit analyzes so far during the pandemic still apply. Outdoor environments are less risky than indoor environments. Larger spaces are better than smaller spaces. Being in a small group (or not belonging to any group) is safer than being in a large one.
But one thing has changed: You should now definitely ask people about their vaccination status, which can be a difficult conversation to have.
“If I had a child and went on a play date, I would like to know: Are the adults in that household vaccinated?” Cennimo said. “Because if that’s the case, the likelihood of COVID in that home is much lower.”
Know that if this, any of this, feels difficult to resolve, you are not alone. There are no easy answers and parents will still have to make decisions that are right for them.
Parents should also feel empowered to weigh the potential benefits of allowing their children to reconnect with friends or just have fun, Cennimo said. All of these are considerations to keep in mind.
“People need to think about their comfort levels and, within the guidance provided, really rate their activity at their comfort levels,” he said.