The announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 13 that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask in most cases has left many parents with kids under 12 years of age scratching their heads. What do you do when your younger kids still aren’t vaccinated?
More than 3.9 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic. We know that if you are infected, COVID-19 can be spread even if you don’t have symptoms. While it’s true that kids typically experience less severe symptoms than adults, some children get very sick and require hospitalization or need to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe. We also know that some children have developed a rare, but serious, inflammatory condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, as a result of COVID-19.
Therefore, it’s important for parents to continue taking precautions with their unvaccinated kids.
Every family has its own risk tolerance. If your family includes vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, decide on your risk tolerance for your entire family unit. Where you’re going, how many people will be there, how much time you’ll spend there, and the vaccination status of attendees are factors to take into consideration.
For example, if you’re having a family gathering with vaccinated and unvaccinated people, make sure the kids are outside if possible, or wear masks when inside or in close proximity. You may want to avoid crowded indoor settings where there are lots of people without masks and of unknown vaccination status.
It’s also important to consider the activities of your vaccinated kids and the impact they have on younger siblings. Perhaps you will only allow your vaccinated children to be unmasked indoors or at sleepovers with other vaccinated kids to reduce the risk to your younger, unvaccinated children.
If your unvaccinated child is immunocompromised or has other health risk factors, your entire family should have a lower risk tolerance and take a bit more caution. In this circumstance, even vaccinated family members should be careful in settings where there are unvaccinated people in close proximity indoors without masks.
I’ve also heard of some families where the vaccinated parents and older siblings plan on continuing to wear masks until the whole family can be vaccinated in order to model consistent behavior for the younger kids. I think that’s a nice idea that could be beneficial and adds another layer of safety for someone at risk. .
Currently, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all studying the safety and effectiveness of their vaccines in children, including in infants as young as 6 months old. Pfizer-BioNTech hopes to request approval for its COVID-19 vaccine for kids 2-11 years old in late summer.
Continued study of the vaccines has shown that they are extremely safe and effective in preventing infection, and if infection does occur, the vaccinated person has such a low viral load that they are not spreading the disease. Additionally, especially in kids, serious side-effects of the vaccine have been extremely rare.
When kids younger than 12 are eligible for the vaccine, it’s important to vaccinate them for their protection, to help protect your family, and to help stop community spread. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic and get back to the things we (and our kids) love.
Children’s Wisconsin is here for you. Our vaccine clinics currently are scheduling appointments for kids 12 years old and older, and we will be ready to vaccinate younger children as soon as they’re eligible.
We encourage you to speak with your child’s pediatrician if you have specific questions or concerns about your child or unique family situation.