We’ve been left in the lurch for nearly a year now—our daily routines upended and small comforts hard to come by. The elusive work-life balance, for parents in particular, was already a dance performed on a razor’s edge before the pandemic hit, so it’s pretty unsurprising that the virus has taken a serious toll on those of us with kids. But now with vaccine rollouts slowly happening across the country, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
Indeed, if the news of a vaccine (or possibly the opportunity to receive one personally) has made you perk up a little bit, you’re not alone…and that sense of relief isn’t wrong, either. But you may be wondering whether that relief is the type that has an impact on your day-to-day, or if it’s just a much-needed but somewhat more abstract beacon of hope. We took our top parent-minded questions straight to the medical experts: Here’s what Dr. Robert Dracker (medical director at Summerwood Pediatrics), Dr. Jarret Patton (best-selling author and board-certified pediatrician), and Dr. George Liakeas (primary care physician and medical director of Lexington Medical Associates) think you should know.
Q: Is it safe to let kids have play dates if all the parents involved are vaccinated?
Dr. Patton: “Even though parents may be completely vaccinated and have a very low chance of contracting COVID, your children aren’t eligible to get the vaccine. As a result, your children are now more vulnerable to contracting COVID than the parent. Everyone involved should continue to play safely which means limiting indoor contact, wearing masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.”
Dr. Dracker: “First of all, vaccination in itself is not foolproof in its ability to prevent infection. It is assumed that some who are vaccinated can still contract the virus and shed the virus even if they do not seem clinically ill…[but] we know that vaccination seems to significantly reduce the severity of disease, hospitalizations, complications and death; however, it will not prevent infection in all, particularly considering the emergence of new virus strains. With regards to children...the majority of children who contract the virus are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms at best [and] the risk of transmission is greater between asymptomatic children, rather than from vaccinated parents.”
Dr. Liakeas: “There are two dynamics going on: One is that there’s a lot, of course, that we still don’t know—so any advice should be taken, not with a grain of salt per se, but with a level of safety that places the context in order. In other words, on the one hand, yes, if everyone around who could be vaccinated has been, then we place it in the context of ‘we did the best we could’ and resort to good judgment. [On the other hand] we don’t know how well the vaccine protects at this point, because the purpose of the vaccine is more in the realm of herd immunity rather than personal protection, so every decision must be weighed for risks and benefits. The question to ask yourself is what collateral damage could an infected child cause? Even if you have decreased the risks by receiving the vaccine, you should still follow safety protocol and use your judgment. If a child has any possible symptoms, including minor symptoms, resort back to a higher level of protection.”
The takeaway: There’s a lot to unpack there—primarily because the experts are still parsing the details of the COVID vaccine. That said, all three of the doctors we spoke with agree that this vaccine is so young that it can’t be viewed as foolproof protection. (Indeed, Dr. Liakeas points out that individual protection is not really the point of vaccines to begin with, though they do carry that benefit to an extent.) Even though you are less likely to become gravely ill as a vaccinated person, you can still get sick—and your unvaccinated children are no less susceptible to contracting the virus and passing it on to others. When it comes to play dates in which all adults present have been vaccinated, it’s not a terrible scenario—but you’d be wise to practice social distancing, keep masks on...and definitely don’t share sippy cups.
Q: Can I take my children to see a vulnerable relative (like Grandma) if she’s vaccinated but the kids are not?
Dr. Patton: “After Grandma is vaccinated, she is less likely to have a severe case even if she contracts the virus. Since the vaccines available aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing COVID there is still a slight risk that Grandma can get the virus. It is still recommended to wear masks as we are learning more about how the new variants of COVID are covered with our current vaccines.”
Dr. Dracker: “You must first do your own family risk check, reviewing whether any family member, including the children, have had any potential contact with an individual who has recently been found to be COVID positive. Full protection from the currently available vaccines requires both vaccines in the series to be received and at least two weeks following the second vaccine in order to achieve the greater than 90 percent protection rate. The CDC still strongly recommends that masks, social distancing and good hygiene be used even for those of us who have been vaccinated.”
Dr. Liakeas: “If you do that, use as much common sense and take as many precautions as possible. We are in a better place with therapeutics should someone get sick, but we don’t want to discourage people from quarantine. The vaccine contributes to better outcomes, but it isn’t a certainty. We can’t guarantee you’re good to go, but you can lighten restrictions with caution after the vaccine series has had a chance to kick in—again, while following standard protocol as much as possible.”
The takeaway: The vaccine is understood to vastly improve outcomes in sick patients, but it doesn’t prevent sickness entirely, so cautionary measures should be taken when it comes to visiting vulnerable people—even if they have been vaccinated. Sorry for sounding like a broken record, but if you take the kids to see their grandparents, make sure you mask up and wash up on the regular.
Q: I’m vaccinated, but my kids aren’t—can I pass the virus to them? Can I still be a silent carrier after receiving the vaccine series?
Dr. Patton: “The chances of this happening are pretty low based on what we know about the vaccines currently. However, just because a parent has completed the vaccination series, it does not mean that the family can go back to life pre-pandemic. Getting the vaccine is important, but enough people in the community must be vaccinated in order to reduce the viral activity (which is what makes it less likely for your child to catch COVID).”
Dr. Dracker: “Again, vaccination greatly reduces the risk of contracting and becoming ill with the virus, however we do not yet know if all vaccine types protect against new emerging strains and we do not yet definitely know how long the immune protection lasts following completed vaccination. It is also important to remember that no vaccine is 100 percent effective in the general population, and the response to any vaccine varies from person to person. Vaccination, in itself, clearly reduces the risk of infection and its associated illness—[and] without infection, generally there is very limited viral replication and shedding.”
Dr. Liakeas: “There’s a lot we just don’t know because the studies were shortened. What we believe is that it is possible you can be a silent carrier, but you will likely not be nearly as infectious and will not personally suffer as serious outcomes.”
The takeaway: Vaccines help fight diseases by creating herd immunity (without the death toll) and although an effective vaccine may not entirely prevent infection, it will significantly reduce your infectiousness. It’s pretty unlikely that you will pass the virus to your kids once you have been vaccinated.