- The COVID-19 vaccine is currently not authorized for use in children under the age of 16.
- While children appear to be less affected by COVID-19 than adults, they’re not at zero risk from infection and illness.
- Families must weigh the benefits versus risks when deciding what activities to partake in with unvaccinated children.
As more and more adults across the United States receive the COVID-19 vaccine, families with unvaccinated children are left with many questions about which activities are safe to participate in this summer.
Two of the three vaccines currently on the market are authorized for use in adults 18 and older, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people 16 and older.
Pfizer recently released data stating its vaccine is safe and effective for children 12 to 15 years old.
Experts expect children in this age group to start getting vaccinated soon, maybe even as early as next month.
Testing is also underway in children under 12 and as young as 6 months. But these trials are expected to take longer; younger children may need different doses than adolescents and adults.
“If all goes well, we’re looking at probably early 2022 when we would see emergency use authorization for younger kids,” Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care.
That leaves a lot of time and uncertainty for parents trying to navigate a post-vaccine world where they’re protected but their children are still at risk of infection and transmitting the virus to others.
The good news is that children appear to be less affected by COVID-19 than adults.
“Fortunately, children seem to have a lower risk of severe illness from the virus,” said Dr. Dane Snyder, section chief of primary care pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “The risk is still there. It’s just much lower than adults.”
Spinner also emphasized that children are much less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, but noted there are kids who have been severely affected.
“Here at Texas Children’s, just like at other pediatric hospitals across the country, we continue to have children in the ICU due to COVID infection,” he said. “Most of these children are at higher risk due to their underlying conditions, but some were completely healthy and we wouldn’t have expected there to be a problem.”
As such, parents should continue to take precautions to keep unvaccinated children safe, especially those who are medically vulnerable.
“We don’t live in a zero-risk world, so the bottom line is figuring out how much risk is anyone willing to take when making a decision,” Spinner said. “There are so many variables that one has to consider.”
Healthline asked Spinner and Snyder to offer guidance on what factors parents should weigh when deciding whether to partake in the following activities with their unvaccinated children. Here’s what they said.
Both experts emphasized the importance of human interaction, especially with loved ones.
“That’s such an important part of our lives, both short term and long term, so it’s important to include those benefits when it comes to evaluating risk,” Snyder said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that fully vaccinated people can visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are not at severe risk of COVID-19 indoors without wearing masks.
This means kids who don’t have an underlying condition that puts them at risk of COVID-19 complications can safely visit with their fully vaccinated grandparents.
For high-risk children, Spinner recommends being a bit more cautious. Visiting outdoors and wearing masks is one way to do this.
“We’re still not 100 percent sure that everyone who is fully vaccinated may not transmit the virus,” Spinner said. “We’re still learning.”
When you start bringing other unvaccinated people into the mix, this is when it becomes more complicated.
“If you have a family member who isn’t masking when going out and engages in socially risky behavior, that may alter the dynamics of getting together,” Spinner said.
Heading to a restaurant for a family dinner is certainly tempting when so many parents have spent the last year cooking at home.
Experts say if you decide to do this with unvaccinated children, stick to dining outdoors.
“Restaurants pose a problem because there’s a larger amount of people in an inside space, which increases the risk of transmission,” Snyder said. “But one of the things you can do to decrease the risk is to eat outside. The weather’s getting warmer so that should be more available to us all.”
The CDC recommends against travel for unvaccinated people when possible. But if a family vacation is something you’re still considering this summer, experts say to stick to a road trip.
“If a family decides to travel, driving lowers the risk versus flying in an airplane or taking the train because you’re just around your family when enclosed in that car,” Snyder said.
Once you get to your destination, it’s important to continue to abide by COVID-19 restrictions that we’ve been following for the past year, Snyder emphasized.
“Try to avoid large crowds, eat outside, wear a mask, wash your hands frequently,” he said. “Follow the same principles that have gotten us to this point.”
Snyder also recommends packing extra masks.
Spinner said it’s important to understand that when it comes to participating in sports, there’s a spectrum of risk.
“We know that when kids are playing sports together, they typically don’t wear masks,” he said. “They’re running, screaming, shouting, and breathing more, so there is a potential for more spread of the virus.”
As with other scenarios, outdoor sports are much safer than indoor sports.
With the summer approaching, swimming is another activity on many parents’ minds.
Experts don’t believe COVID-19 spreads in swimming pools, but certain activities kids partake in while in the pool might.
“Outdoor pools are certainly safer than indoor pools,” Spinner said. “If your kids are getting into the pool to swim for exercise or taking a swimming lesson and aren’t in close proximity to others, I think that’s fairly reasonable.”
Spinner added, “But if they’re in a big group of children horsing around with each other, that could still spread the virus, certainly in an indoor pool.”
When it comes to sending children to camp this summer, there’s a lot parents need to consider.
“There’s so many different variations of summer camp that it’s hard to [give] a blanket recommendation,” Snyder said.
However, he advises parents to do their homework before enrolling their kids in summer camp.
“I would recommend parents get as much information about the camp as they can,” Snyder said. “Ask questions like, what is the camp doing differently this year than previous years? What is the camp doing to help reduce the risk as much as possible?”
Once parents know this, they can evaluate how comfortable they feel with their children attending.
If you need help weighing the risks of summer camp — or any other activities — Snyder recommends talking with your child’s primary care doctor.
“A pediatrician is a great resource for any questions, especially about an individual,” he said. “We’re people, so we’re all different, and risks of complications are different for everybody.”
Finally, Spinner highlighted the importance of everyone getting vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible, as this will help reduce the overall transmission of COVID-19.
“All three vaccines currently on the market today are amazingly effective and incredibly safe,” Spinner said. “We also need to continue to practice good judgement when it comes to physical distancing.”
“Wearing masks when we’re around others who are unvaccinated or when we don’t know their vaccination status: That combination should get us where we want to be much sooner as far as getting all this behind us,” he said.