I don’t want to speak for all grandparents, but the ones in our lives have been pretty eager to see our kids. My mother and step father live in Utah, while my wife’s parents live in Idaho. And sure, they’ve been making the best of it using FaceTime and phone calls. My mother-in-law has actually been pretty cool about reading stories with my six-year-old, and I’ll be honest, after being in the house with her 24/7 for months, having Grandma read stories over the computer has probably saved my sanity. But it has been many months since Grandma and Grandpa have seen our children, and with a vaccine being distributed as we speak, the big question in our family, and probably yours too, is: when can we visit?
Well… like everything with COVID-19, and the past year in general, it’s complicated, and the first step is getting the vaccine. According to NBC News, next in line for the vaccine, after health care workers, are essential workers and people over the age of 65 — a recent change in recommendation from the original age group of 75 and over. It is also good to note that essential workers are a larger population than one might realize. The Wall Street Journal says that essential workers comprise 87 million people, and that number does not include people over the age of 75, unless they also work in an essential position, such as at a grocery store, or as a teacher. So naturally, when exactly grandma and grandpa will get the vaccine is still a bit of an unknown, but ultimately, it should happen sometime in the next few months.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, did a pretty interesting interview with CNN recently. She tried to answer the question of when grandma and grandpa can visit the grandkids without a mask or social distancing, and ultimately, her answers revolved around the mitigation of risk.
According to Dr. Wen, there’s a lot to consider outside of just when grandparents will get the vaccine. For example, it’s a two dose deal. “There is probably some level of immunity after one dose, but we don’t know how complete the protection is and how long it lasts,” she told CNN. With both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, there’s a multiple-week wait for the second dose (three weeks with the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks with Moderna). But wait … there’s more waiting. “After the second dose, it probably takes another two or three weeks to develop the optimal degree of immune protection,” Dr. Wen says. So if you do some quick math here, between doses, and the vaccine taking full effect after the second dose, you are looking at five to six weeks after getting the first injection.
Even then, with both doses administered, the vaccine is only 95% effective. That’s a very high level of coverage — I mean, if I went to the doctor, and they said I had a 5% chance of something going wrong because of a necessary procedure, I’d still have the procedure. But facts are facts, and there is still a 5% chance of you getting ill from the virus after getting vaccinated. But according to Dr. Wen, even if you get ill from COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, your chances of getting deathly, in-the-ER ill are much less likely. That’s excellent news.
All of this is pretty positive, but doctors don’t know if it’s still possible to carry and transmit the virus to others even after getting the vaccine, and that seems to be where the real pinch is. At present, there’s not enough data to give a definitive answer. “The coronavirus vaccines have proved to be powerful shields against severe illness, but that is no guarantee of their efficacy in the nose. The lungs — the site of severe symptoms — are much more accessible to the circulating antibodies than the nose or throat, making them easier to safeguard,” reports The New York Times.
So let’s take the example of my wife. In November of 2020 she went into the hospital for 3 weeks when a bad case of phenomena turned into septic shock. It wasn’t COVID-19, and now her doctor is telling her she is at high risk for COVID-19 complications. If her parents received both doses of the vaccine, and waited for it to take full effect, they would most likely be protected from the virus. But if they visited our children, or my wife, it is possible that they could carry the virus, and give it to her, which could be bad news considering her recent medical history.
So what does all this mean in terms of a visit from the grandparents? According to the good Doctor Anthony Fauci and Newsweek, “around 70 to 85 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to see a ‘dramatic decrease’ in cases and reach herd immunity… That 70 to 85 percent level of vaccination equates to around 230 million to 279 million of the total U.S. population of 328,239,523 people.” Not to state the obvious, but that’s a lot of people.
Dr. Wen is personally planning to have her father visit from Vancouver in summer or early fall of 2021. And I know, that seems like a million years away — particularly when you consider how COVID-19 time seems to move a lot slower than regular time — but it is something you can put on the calendar, which is more than we can say for the last several months.
So much of it comes down to calculating the risk. You need to sit down and look at all the factors: medical history, age, how many people in the family are vaccinated before making a decision. But rest assured, relief is coming, and I have no doubt that very shortly those grandkids will be getting some serious (and safe) snuggles. They’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.
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.