The other day, I picked my kids up from an outdoor socially distanced birthday party. There were nine kids in a friend’s backyard, all running around like the wild animals they are — but always six feet apart, and always with masks. There was a snack table with individually packaged snacks and hand sanitizer stations on the side. There was seating, but it was spread out. We have several immunocompromised friends in our group, and though they are vaccinated, many of the adults still aren’t, and of course none of the kids are. So we took all these measures to prevent spread.
On the ride home, my daughter asked when kids would be allowed to get vaccinated. She knew I’d scheduled my first dose already, and she was feeling some understandable vaccine envy (been there!). These kids have been troopers for over a year now. They had fun at the party, but it wasn’t the same as the parties they were used to from before the pandemic. They’re chomping at the bit to get back to doing simple, normal things like hugging their friends and licking the icing off of cupcakes with their shoulders smashed together.
It feels unfair to them to see the adults around them getting vaccinated while they continue to isolate and distance, even though they understand the reasons vaccinations started with the oldest members of our population and are working their way toward younger groups.
We’re so close, but we’re not quite there. Pfizer began trials on kids aged 12-17 in July of 2020 and on younger children ages 11 to 6 months just last week. Moderna was struggling to get participants to sign up for its trials but has also begun testing kids under 12 as of mid-March.
But as more and more adults get vaccinated, there’s a question among some parents who are wondering what are the appropriate measures to keep taking when they get to a point where the majority of adults in their lives are vaccinated but the kids aren’t. If all the adults are vaccinated, can the unvaccinated kids play together? If yes, can they take off their masks? What are the risks here? None of us want to behave in a way that prolongs this pandemic or risks anyone else’s health.
What The Experts Have To Say
Experts are saying unvaccinated kids and teens still need to adhere to all the same safety guidelines as before. That means masking up, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.
Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Washington Post that it’s still possible for kids to participate in activities “without increasing risks.” He acknowledged that younger children do appear to be less likely to catch and spread COVID-19 compared to older kids and adults, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely free of risk. “It’s not correct to say that it’s a benign disease in kids,” O’Leary told Washington Post.
And, the fact is, community transmission is still a widespread concern. Even if the adults in your home are vaccinated, if your child is bouncing between gatherings mixed with kids and other adults, they could still be the vector that causes someone else to become infected. And though it’s rare that kids get sick with COVID and even rarer that they get very sick, they do sometimes still get severely ill and can even become long-haulers. Given that we’re so close to a vaccine for kids, now is not the time to throw up our hands and act like the pandemic is over. It’s not. Besides the ongoing community spread, we also have new variants spreading that we’re still learning about with regards to transmission rates and vaccine efficacy.
The Precautions Experts Say You Should Be Taking With Your Kids
The CDC says that fully vaccinated adults can gather without masks. But if you’re gathering with families where some aren’t vaccinated (that means kids), you’re still supposed to wear a mask and social distance.
That said, experts say kids can get together with precautions in place, like the birthday party my kids attended over the weekend. Now is not the time to throw an indoor bash with 30 kids and let them blow bubbles in each other’s faces. Small outdoor gatherings with just a few friends, everyone masked, are perfect. All the better if you know the families of those kids have been taking COVID seriously and/or the adults in the household are vaccinated.
If you are planning to send your child to sleepaway camp this summer, make sure the camp has stringent quarantine guidelines in place. A sleep-away camp in Georgia last summer that only required masks on counselors and not kids ended up with an outbreak of over 250 COVID-infected campers and counselors. Another camp in Maine that required quarantine and testing prior to and upon arrival successfully prevented an outbreak among more than 1,000 campers and staff.
We’re getting close. Every vaccinated person is like that one domino in the line that won’t fall over and knock all the other dominoes down. As we inch closer and closer to herd immunity, let’s continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines so we can be done with COVID-19 once and for all.