At the current pace, everyone living in the U.S. could receive at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccination by the end of this year. But, so far, no vaccination has been approved for children under the age of 16.
While vaccinated parents might be ready to swap social distancing for crowded restaurants and busy summer vacations, many are understandably reluctant to do so while their children are still at risk.
On Tuesday, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can safely resume outdoor activities without the need for a mask.
The vaccines have offered a path out of the pandemic but until there is an option available for all ages, the fear remains.
While estimates vary, herd immunity would require around 80-90% of the population to be immune to Covid-19. Given that children under the age of 18 account for 23% of the population, kids are a vital demographic to vaccinate if we want to make it out of the pandemic.
Until there is a viable vaccination option for people under 16, parents will have to make tough choices about what the easing of restrictions means for their family.
When can children get vaccinated?
As of right now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine available for minors — but kids must be 16 years or older to receive it.
Dr. Elizabeth Henry MD, a board-certified pediatrician and parenting coach, tells us that vaccines for children might be further away than we expect.
“Although kids between the ages of 6 months and 16 years of age are currently being enrolled in clinical trials, the vaccine rollout for children will be gradual. Kids between the ages of 12-16 may be eligible to receive the Covid vaccine by the end of the summer, but the younger children may not be eligible until the end of the year or the beginning of 2022.”
Henry tells us that trials for children are much more complicated than those for adults. Children’s immune responses vary greatly with age so there may not be a one-size-fits-all vaccine for children and adults. There are also other variables to consider.
“Kids receive many childhood vaccinations, so the trials need to make sure the Covid vaccine doesn’t interfere with these shots,” Henry tells us.
Covid-19 can be dangerous to children
According to a recent report by JAMA Pediatrics, “As children get older, their risk of getting sick enough to be hospitalized is higher, although newborns and young infants are also at increased risk. Risk of death in children is far lower than in adults, but some children have died of COVID-19.”
There are also potentially life-altering conditions and side-effects for kids who contract Covid-19, particularly for kids with asthma, obesity, heart conditions and other risk factors. JAMA Pediatrics also explains that, while rare, some children who contract Covid-19 may develop a condition known as MISC (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children).
“Children may develop this syndrome about 2 to 4 weeks after infection, and some of these children had no symptoms of COVID-19. These children require hospitalization and many need complex supportive therapies to help respond to what seems to be the body’s strong response to being infected with the virus.” This condition has been fatal to some children.
Is socializing safe with unvaccinated children?
As we get closer to herd immunity, the threat of contracting or spreading Covid-19 has depleted slightly. But, children are still vulnerable and need their parents to remain diligent.
“Since most children are not yet eligible for the vaccine, they rely on adults following public health protocols and getting vaccinated to stay protected,” Henry says.
If your children are spending time with fully vaccinated family and friends, it is relatively safe for kids to be indoors and unmasked while socializing.
However, it might be too soon for kids to be maskless in public with people who are unvaccinated or high-risk. While the CDC is still recommending those without vaccines stay masked up, it’s best for kids to continue wearing masks and social distancing where possible.
Of course, if you did form a pod with another vaccinated family who is not socializing with anyone else, this would be an exception to the mask mandates.
Henry reminds us that, since none of your children’s friends under the age of 16 are vaccinated yet, it is too soon for kids to see large groups of friends.
“Until most children get vaccinated, parents should keep social distancing and masking precautions in place during activities. It would be wise to keep playgroups, birthday parties, and other gatherings small until the vaccines are available for children.”
How will the end of the pandemic impact children?
Caution will be important when transitioning out of the pandemic restrictions we’ve become accustomed to. Some families will choose to continue isolating and social distancing until all their children are vaccinated, while others may opt to resume some parts of normal life.
There are no one-size-fits-all answers, as much as parents may wish there were.
As David Leonhardt shares in his recent NYT op-ed, “Unfortunately, there is no risk-free option available to parents in the coming months. Keeping children at home — away from their friends, activities, schools and extended family — can also harm them, as multiple studies have suggested.”
Regardless of the path parents choose, children will need support and guidance as the world slowly opens up around them.
“Children will most certainly struggle with the reopening,” Henry warns, “They have had major setbacks and losses in all areas of life this past year—physically, socially, emotionally, and academically. It has been a traumatic time for all.”
Henry recommends that parents stay in tune with their kids’ needs even if they’re back out in the world at school and with friends. It may be overwhelming for them at times so it is vital to keep communication open.
“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable,” she recommends. “Let your kids know that you love them unconditionally. Teens, in particular, may seem standoffish, but they want and need to know that their parents love them and accept them no matter what.”
Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.