Summer is around the corner and pandemic life is finally looking on the upswing. After all, as of May 11th, 44.7% of the U.S. over 18 is fully vaccinated and over half of U.S. adults have received at least one shot. Plus, vaccines are being made available to more and more adults — and the FDA just approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine for adolescents 12 years and older. But what does that mean for households with a mix of fully vaccinated adults, vaccinated kids 16 and older, and unvaccinated children?
We parents have so many questions. Summertime is both the best and worst as a parent. Even though we may be joyous about no more online school sessions — how are we going to occupy our kids? And is this summer going to be a redux of 2020?
We here at Scary Mommy have got you. In our live “Live. Work. Thrive.” event this past Tuesday, we sat down with a panel of experts — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — for the latest updates on COVID safety for the family.
Is the COVID vaccine safe for kids?
“It is so important that parents have the facts and listen to the science as we deal with this crisis. We are turning a corner as more and more Americans are getting vaccinated,” sympathized Dr. Fauci in our Scary Mommy panel. “But I know that many parents out there are wondering about what this means for kids.”
COVID vaccine side effects in children
According to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center pediatrician Dr. Kate Connor, the data they’ve seen from clinical trials show that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 12 to 15. “In particular, there were no significant safety concerns in the trial,” Dr. Connor explained. “There certainly were some side effects that kids experienced that were generally similar to the ones experienced by adults.”
In other words, your kids will most likely have a sore arm after the first injection, and maybe feel a little tired and achy after the second injection.
Should we pretreat our kids before the vaccine?
Doctors don’t recommend pretreatment for any vaccines — so don’t pretreat for the COVID vaccine either. “In some studies, there was some evidence that maybe [pretreatment] could blunt some of the immune response,” Dr. Connor explained. “It’s not clear 100% whether or not that would happen with the COVID vaccine.”
In general, if your child’s side effects are mild and bearable, leave it alone. If your child’s side effects are unbearable and prevent them from daily living, then you can take over the counter medication. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about your individual situation because they are the best situated to understand your kid and family’s unique health circumstances.
As for the effectiveness rates of the COVID vaccines in adolescents, CDR. Erin K. Sauber-Schatz, PhD, MPH explained, “The data from the clinical trials show that COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in both adults and children.” The leader of the Community Intervention and Critical Populations Task Force for the CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response assured us that recent real world data showed mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) “…are over 90% effective in adults, including older adults.”
The main two concerns for kids and teens getting the COVID vaccination are related. If your child 1) has a history of severe allergic reaction after a previous COVID vaccine dose or to a component of the COVID vaccine or 2) has an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose or unknown allergy to any vaccine component, you should ask your pediatrician. You can find a list of each vaccine’s components on the CDC website.
When and where can we get the COVID vaccine for our kids?
Now that the CDC recommends kids 12 and up get vaccinated ASAP — what we really want to know is how soon can they get it, if they can get it in time for summer camps or school in the fall, and when kids younger than 12 get the vaccine.
Phasing of COVID vaccine for kids and teens
Dr. Fauci explained that adolescents and high school kids will likely be able to be vaccinated in the summer before fall term in September. As for younger kids, they’re currently conducting age de-escalation studies to show the vaccine is safe and effective in children. “Likely as we get to the end of this calendar year 2021 that we will have all the information we need to safely vaccinate children at any age,” he said.
COVID vaccine should be given alone
The CDC advises that the COVID vaccine be administered alone — with a minimum of 14 days before or after another vaccine is given — because we lack data on the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines simultaneously administered with other vaccines. The minimum interval can be shortened in situations where the benefits of vaccination outweighs the unknown risks of coadministration.
Get your kids up to date on their other vaccines
Due to the pandemic, many children were unable to get vaccinated. “We are over 11 million vaccines behind for all of our children,” said Dr. Walensky. To keep your kids safe from COVID and other preventable diseases, the Director of the CDC urged, “It is critical not only to get your eligible children a COVID-19 vaccine, but to ensure that they are up to date on all of their vaccines.”
What activities are safe for my unvaccinated children to do?
All this information is great — but what we really want to know is what our unvaccinated kids can do or not do. So below, a quick fire FAQ from the panel for your convenience.
Can unvaccinated kids go on playdates with other unvaccinated kids if all the adults in the households are vaccinated?
Yes, but with caveats. Though the risks of younger children getting or spreading COVID are low, if you’re mixing two households and the children are not vaccinated, the safest way to do that is to be outside, distanced, and masked. Continue to avoid large gatherings.
Can we send unvaccinated children to sleepaway camp (pleasesayyespleasesayyes)?
Yes. Please check the CDC’s updated guidelines for camps and your own comfort level.
What about swimming in public pools?
“Outdoors is always much safer than indoors,” said Dr. Connor. Make sure your pool has a mask and social distancing policy for people not in the pool. If you’re inside, consider the size of the space and its ventilation.
How about theme parks?
It depends (but mostly, no). Are the venues outside? How feasible is the social distancing? Can people actually stay apart? How close are you to other people? What about when you’re doing things like eating or screaming your droplets all over the place?
What about concerts/theaters?
Again, outdoors is better than indoors. Avoid big crowds — especially for your unvaccinated kids. Reconsider how close you want to be to the stage if people will be singing or playing brass instruments. Stay distanced.
What about airplane travel?
According to Dr. Connor, one of the bigger risks in airplane travel is actually airports. Make sure you wear your masks, maintain social distance, don’t take extra layovers, and double mask your kids with a disposable mask and a cloth mask over the top. Airplane ventilation systems are pretty good but try to sit flanking your kids. Make sure you look at travel guidance for your area and your destination.
For more about what your unvaccinated kids can safely do, please check out the full video.
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.