As new cases of COVID infections and deaths drop in the U.S. from the highest peak (249,669 new cases) on January 7, 2021 to the current 7-day moving average of 52,528 as of April 28 due in part to the increased vaccinations among American adults, another concern has risen in its wake. While this is great news, many of us forget that COVID-19 can still spread among the unvaccinated — which increasingly will be children.
Despite about one-third of the U.S. over 18 being fully vaccinated and a little over half of U.S. adults having received at least one shot, we are nowhere near herd immunity — if that is even possible since many experts believe that COVID-19 will become endemic, meaning that it’s here to stay and about to be as common as the cold and the flu.
The demographics of who is at risk for COVID has already changed.
While the risk of death is much higher for adults — kids are 8,700 times less likely to die than adults over 85 — COVID in kids is very scary, too. In the same way that serious COVID cases in young adults and middle-aged folks have increased, COVID cases in our kids are likely to rise as people falsely believe they can be more lax in precautions because more people are vaccinated. We need to protect our kids until they can get vaccinated.
With so many of our households being mixed-vaccination households — where the adults and some kids over 16 are vaccinated (the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for kids as young as 16, and the FDA is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12-15 as early as next week) — it’s a strange time for families as we navigate this weird limbo of some folks being fully vaccinated and others, still incredibly vulnerable.
While the Pfizer vaccine may likely be authorized for children aged 12 to 15 soon, children younger than 12 may have to wait until at least Fall 2021 or even the beginning of 2022 for the proper clinical trials to finish. This strategy is called “age de-escalation.”
What age de-escalation looks like is in early-phase trials, vaccines are first administered to healthy adults (who are not pregnant), then to younger and younger children to ensure that the vaccine is safe for kids and can produce an immune response (i.e.: antibodies). If all these prove safe and effective, then the final target will be to see if the vaccine is safe for infants.
Due to the way vaccines are rolled out, it stands to reason that eventually, children — and especially young children — will become the primary patients infected with COVID. While many of us feel as if the world is finally opening up again now that we have been vaccinated, for the estimated 30 million households with children who are too young to receive the shots, it’s an odd feeling to feel both safer and yet still terrified for our kids.
What are the biggest risk factors to our children?
Truthfully, the main risk to our unvaccinated kids is simply how much COVID is spreading in our communities. This varies by county, state, and region — with rural areas showing less of an inclination to vaccinate — although it’s not clear whether this is ideological or an access issue. Undoubtedly, the less the virus is spreading in your community, the lower risk there is to your child.
Experts have said that we can relax general restrictions when new cases drop to one-tenth to one-fifth of our current 7-day average — about 5,000 to 10,000 new cases of COVID infections a day. However, not everyone will have the same threshold for risk. If your child has a high-risk medical condition such as lung disease like asthma or COPD, an autoimmune disease, or cancer, you may choose to be more vigilant than parents with kids in areas of low COVID transmission and no medical conditions.
In addition, we still need to be cautious of the more virulent variants like B.1.1.7 — especially when schools go back in session. It seems obvious that schools will likely be the hotspots for future COVID outbreaks. After all, a lot of unvaccinated children will be in an enclosed space for long periods of time. Be prepared for your kids to wear masks at school until the majority of children are vaccinated.
More than schools however, will be your personal tolerance for risk to your kids. How comfortable are you with in-person playdates, extracurricular activities, and the resumption of pre-pandemic activities? For instance, I was initially going to take my kids to BTS concerts before the pandemic, but now, even if they resume these stadium concerts (you’ll have to pry these tickets out of my cold, dead hands), am I okay with bringing my unvaccinated children to an event with 60,000 to 90,000 people?
Only you can decide what level of exposure and risk you are willing to accept for your children.
How can we protect our kids from COVID?
Ultimately, we can protect our kids by making sure we as a country get vaccinated as quickly as possible in addition to using other precautionary measures. Almost a year and half into the pandemic, you know the drill. Even if you are vaccinated, you should still wear a face covering mask, avoid crowded spaces, avoid areas with bad air circulation, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and be careful who you spend time with in enclosed spaces.
Teach and enforce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Make sure your kids’ other vaccinations are up to date, keep them active and socially connected, and continue to proceed with caution until children can be safely vaccinated for the coronavirus. The safer we can make our country and communities for anyone who cannot yet be vaccinated, the better.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.