Adrianna Rodriguez USA TODAY
Parents received good news Wednesday when Pfizer-BioNTech announced its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in children 12 to 15 years old. The vaccine is currently authorized for use starting at age 16.
The company announced last week that it had begun testing in children under 12 years old. These trials are expected to take longer as younger children may need different doses than teens and adults. If the benefits are found to outweigh the risks, some experts predict authorization of the vaccine for young kids early next year.
Moderna is testing its vaccine in 12- to 18-year-olds, andexperts expect results soon. The company said it began testing in children under 12 years old in mid-March.
As the trials in children and teens progress, millions of parents in the USA who are getting vaccinated are unsure how to navigate a post-vaccineworld where they’re protected but their kids can get sick and spread the virus.
Here’s what health experts recommend is safe to do with your children:
Sports and other extracurricular activities
Outdoor activities represent a relatively low risk of infection, said Richard Malley, a physician in the division of infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Though policies vary depending on the state, county and school district, he said, masks remain an important part of further reducing that risk.
“We’re trying our best to really limit transmission in a field where there’s still a fair amount of uncertainty,” Malley said. “Reduction in risk doesn’t mean elimination of risk.”
What if it’s impossible to wear a mask? Some parents have signed their children up for swim classes in anticipation of the summer. Malley recommends skipping indoor classes in favor of outdoor pools.
“Outdoor swimming is always going to feel safer than indoor swimming,” he said. “As long as the kids are not on top of one another in the pool, that’s another way to minimize risk.”
Birthday parties can be a fun and safe celebration, health experts said, as long as kids wear masks and stay outside.
Parents may lower the risk of infection by keeping the party at 10 kids or fewer, said Dr. Lee Beers, medical director of community health and advocacy at Children’s National Hospital in Washington and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She suggested modifying some traditions that may increase risk of infection such as gathering to open presents or eat cake.
“Talk to kids about what things about their birthday celebration is important to them,” she said. “This is a time we can get creative and create memories with our kids.”
If blowing out candles is important to your child, Beers suggested replacing a traditional cake with individual cupcakes. Children should be at least 3 to 6 feet apart during any activities that involve drinking or eating, Malley said.
Parks and family outings
Parks are a great way to relieve stress from the pandemic with family and present a relatively low risk of infection compared with other activities, Malley said.
If there are other families at the park enjoying the lovely weather, Beers suggested bringing a mask and finding an area that’s not as crowded. Parents can be creative by exploring new places and “finding things that are off the beaten path,” she said.
Though it’s preferable to maintain a distance from people who are not in the same household, Malley said it’s unlikely one can get sick from a brief interaction with a stranger outside.
“You don’t catch this virus from a very brief interaction with somebody else,” he said. “(The park) seems to me like a very healthy way to make ourselves feel better after the year that we’ve had.”
Indoor dining is still considered a risky activity even if both parents are vaccinated, health experts said.
“My advice would be to continue to avoid (indoor dining), particularly knowing that we’re on the cusp of things improving but also on the cusp of another spike,” Beers said, referring to a White House briefing Monday where Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky warned that the next few weeks may bring a rise in cases.
“Hanging in there a little longer gives us the opportunity to do whatever we want, wherever we want much sooner,” Beers said.
Though it may be too risky to bring unvaccinated children into restaurants, health experts said that shouldn’t stop vaccinated parents from enjoying a night out by themselves.
A CDC study released Monday shows vaccines may affect asymptomatic transmission, which suggests it is unlikely parents would bring home the virus to their kids. Another national study is underway to determine whether the virus spreads among vaccinated college students, Anthony Fauci, medical adviser to the president, revealed during a White House briefing Friday.
“With these data, it seems likely that a vaccinated individual would be much less likely to transmit the virus to someone else,” Malley said. “So for this particular situation, a parent who is hanging out with others would not be very likely to come home and transmit the virus to their children.”
Visiting the grandparents
According to CDC guidelines released in early March, fully vaccinated grandparents don’t have to wear a mask or physically distance if they visit fully vaccinated family or unvaccinated family not at risk for getting severely ill.
Grandparents and family should all wear masks and physically distance if there is more than one household visiting.
According to the CDC example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit with their unvaccinated daughter and her children indoors without a mask or socially distancing. But if the neighbors decide to show up, everyone should put on a mask and stay at least 6 feet from one another. The gathering should be taken outdoors or to a well-ventilated area.
“We emphasize that this is a rule for people who are not at high risk,” Malley said. “If somebody has a kid that is high risk, you would want to be extraordinarily careful.”
Even as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC continues to advise against nonessential travel, and health experts agree.
Travel exacerbates the spread of COVID-19 and the country has seen a surge in cases after every holiday since the pandemic’s onset, Walensky said during the White House briefing Monday.
“What we’re seeing now is more travel than we saw – than we saw throughout the pandemic, including the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” she said. “I would just sort of reiterate the recommendations from the CDC, saying please limit travel to essential travel for the time being.”
These guidelines may change in the next couple of months if Americans continue to get vaccinated and coronavirus cases decline, health experts said.
Malley said domestic travel is less risky than international travel as medical care may be limited in foreign countries. Families run the risk of getting stuck in a country for weeks to quarantine if they test positive for the coronavirus.
Malley suggested booking summer trips that are fully refundable in case the CDC is still not recommending travel by the summer.
“We don’t know where things are going to be over the summer,” Beers said. “(But) if we can really all continue to do our part and see the rate of transmission go down, summer travel may be very realistic.”
Contributing: Karen Weintraub and Morgan Hines
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.