Is It OK to Book a Summer Vacation with Your Unvaccinated Kids? We Asked a Pediatrician

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Good news for anyone who’s vaccinated: The C.D.C. confirmed that vaccinated Americans are free to travel “at low-risk to themselves.” But here’s the million dollar question: For parents, who are still patiently waiting for a vaccine to be made available to kids 16 and under, is it safe to book a summer vacation if the parents are vaccinated, but the kids are not? It’s a gray area for sure, which is why we checked in with Dr. Christina Johns, the senior medial advisor for PM Pediatrics, to get a realistic perspective on the best way to proceed.

1. Yes, you can travel, but think about decreasing risk, not eliminating it

Vaccinations are rolling out. We’re getting to the other side, but when it comes to summer travel with children, it’s not about risk elimination, it’s about risk mitigation, says Dr. Johns. “Parents have to ask themselves: How can we decrease risk with the understanding that we’ve got to live our lives, but at the same time, be smart about it?” she says. “If you can think of a trip where you can distance and not be in crowds and are able to either bring in food or make your own meals, so you’re not relying on others to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner, then I’d say that’s a vacation that’s fairly low-risk.” In other words, less city tours, more great outdoors…for now. “This is the year of the mountain lake rental or a cool hiking trip. You want to choose a vacation for your family that doesn’t require gathering in circles of people you don’t know. That way you’re not transmitting any high-risk situation over to your unvaccinated toddler.”

2. Yes, you can get on a plane

Should vaccinated parents prioritize a road trip over a plane flight? Not necessarily, Dr. Johns says. “There’s fairly good data, with a couple of caveats, that tells us that the risk of catching COVID-19 on an airplane is fairly low. The air circulation is quite good,” Dr. Johns explains. Still, you’ll need to mask properly—something that might not be as easy for younger kids. “An 18-month-old likely won’t be able to stay in a mask for a lengthy trip, so plane travel especially depends on the age.” She adds that it also depends on the length of the trip. “If you’re able to mask and if it’s a shorter trip—meaning there isn’t any eating or getting up and down a lot on the aircraft—then your risk is pretty low.”

3. It’s OK to eat at restaurants outdoors (just not indoors)

Per the CDC, dining indoors still comes with considerable risk. “If you’re going to a restaurant, call ahead so that you’re absolutely sure there is outdoor seating,” says Dr. Johns. “Most jurisdictions have very specific guidance about capacity and what-not, but I like to double check that. Some places will say, yes, we have it, but then it’s those enclosed bubbles, so it’s really not.”

4. Do what you can to avoid peak travel times

The Fourth of July weekend might not be the right time to hit the road with your unvaccinated children, says Dr. Johns. In her work, she’s talked with a lot of parents who are thinking about a vacation in May before all the summer crowds or September after all the crowds are off the beach. “Do anything you can to be flexible and ratchet down the risk factors that elevate your exposure potential,” she says.

5. Put a pin in that family reunion

As restrictions start to relax and people start to think about gathering, Dr. Johns cautions that we need to be wary of the risk factors of a get-together with one family that suddenly turns into three families. “It’s not the same as a wedding with 50 or 100 people, but vaccinated or not, it becomes a legitimate gathering and those are the kinds of micro-spreader events that are really keeping us from getting where we want to go with this pandemic.” Bottom line: Dr Johns recommends heeding the C.D.C. warning of limiting to one family and continuing to try your best to prioritize outdoor activities. “These little impactful strategies can actually make a huge difference.”

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