Millions of COVID-19 vaccinations are being administered every day. And now that there’s a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in kids age 12-15, plans for family vacations, play dates and other activities are entering the picture.
But with younger kids still waiting on a vaccine, parents may want to pump the brakes a bit.
“We have to remember that unvaccinated children remain at risk for getting COVID-19,” said Stephen Hippler, MD, chief clinical officer for OSF HealthCare. “And although the risk of severe disease in younger children is low, it’s not zero.”
Follow the guidelines
It’s necessary to remember, Dr. Hippler said, that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend that the level of precautions taken should be determined by the characteristics of the unvaccinated people who remain unprotected from COVID-19.
That means unvaccinated people from a single household where none of the members are at risk of severe COVID-19 can visit with fully vaccinated people indoors, without anyone wearing masks, with a low risk of transmission of the virus.
A bit murky
Now that the CDC has said fully vaccinated people can go without masks outdoors and indoors, except where required by law or business and workplace guidance, things are getting a little murkier for parents with young children who are not yet able to be vaccinated.
“It is a very difficult situation to be in as a family with vaccinated parents where some of the children are likely vaccinated and others aren’t because of their age,” said Kyle Boerke, Psy.D, a child and adolescent psychologist and director of Behavioral Health Ambulatory Services at OSF HealthCare.
“First and foremost, you as a parent, please get vaccinated as we know it’s our best shot of ending this pandemic,” Dr. Boerke said. “And, if your children are eligible, get them vaccinated, too. It’s helping your family, it’s helping everyone.”
For families with kids who are a mix of ages, where some are eligible to be vaccinated and others are too young yet, Dr. Boerke said it’s important to keep the communication lines open.
“Explain to them that we are making progress on the vaccine front,” he said. “The COVID-19 vaccine was originally only for 16 and older and now it includes 12- to 15-year-olds. That brings hope to those kids who are 9, 10 and 11 who are wanting to return to normal activities as soon as they can.”
Be an example
As a parent, it’s important to remember you are an incredibly influential role model for your children, Dr. Boerke said.
“If you get vaccinated, the more likely your children will get on board when it’s time for them to be vaccinated,” he said.
But it also comes down to being a role model for younger, unvaccinated kids.
“Parents may consider wearing masks because we’re modeling behavior our children will pick up on,” Dr. Boerke said. “For example, I was vaccinated in December, but I still wear a mask at our outdoor soccer tournaments because it sets an example for not only my son but the other kids, too. Quite honestly, it’s not that hard.
“It’s also sending a message to our children that we get it, that they’re not alone,” he said. “It says, ‘I’m willing to come alongside of you and do this with you, too.’ It’s sending a message that you love them and are willing to sacrifice a little bit longer, too.”
Plan activities with the unvaccinated in mind
“The easiest answer – let’s get kids outside. Get them off the video games and outside,” Dr. Boerke said. “Now more than ever, the evidence is very clear and the safety of outdoor activities is very well documented. They can interact with peers safely and make those needed connections.”
Keep that in mind when planning that much-needed and long-awaited family vacation, he said.
“Spending time outside is going to be your best bet. You can go to a beach, or go hiking, biking or camping,” he said. “The hard part is fully vaccinated parents may want to eat indoors in restaurants and I think that’s where parents need to make some sacrifices and adapt when there are those mixed families of vaccinated and unvaccinated.”
And you don’t need to go away for a vacation to start feeling a little more like normal.
“The biggest thing is we want to start the process of returning to normal and we’re at a great time of the year for that to happen. We can have friends over and have a bonfire outside. It’s not like it was in January where a gathering outdoors wouldn’t make sense.
Ready to set an example?
“Pools are opening, we can have cookouts with families that have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated members … The timing of vaccinations and the loosening of mask requirement is all going to help us return to normal as long as people take moderate precautions and alter their plans just a little bit,” Dr. Boerke said.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, weighing the pros and cons will help you make decisions that are a good fit for your family.
“We’ve gone this long being smart and making all these sacrifices,” he said. “Just a little bit longer and we’re going to cross the finish line.”