Experts Weigh in on What Unvaccinated Kids Can Do and the Risk Level

Child wearing face mask

New mask guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated and COVID-19 vaccines only being available to those 12 and older have left parents and families with younger kids confused and frustrated.

The COVID vaccine is currently in clinical trials for kids as young as 6 months old, but will likely not be approved until the fall. Until then, many families with vaccinated adults and teens are unsure about what activities they should be allowing their unvaccinated kids to take part in and what the potential risk might be.

For now, it is recommended that children continue to wear masks when they interact with people outside of their household. Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases, tells The Washington Post, “Until younger children are eligible to be vaccinated for the coronavirus vaccine, they should continue to wear face masks when they are in public and around other people... Even adults and older children who are vaccinated may want to think about wearing masks if there are younger children in the family — either in solidarity or to keep the risk to unvaccinated children as low as possible.”

So as the world begins to open up more and more, parents with unvaccinated children are asking what they can take part in and what level of risk might be. The Doctors stress nothing is completely risk-free when it comes to COVID (even for those who are vaccinated), but The New York Times surveyed 828 health experts including epidemiologists, public health experts, and pediatric infectious disease physicians that treat children sick with COVID and they weighed in various scenarios, activities and the potential level of risk involved.

Some key findings from the survey that may help parents decide what to allow their kids to do until the vaccine becomes available to them include:

Will the experts vaccinate their kids as soon as possible? - 92 percent of the experts said they would vaccinate their child as soon as the vaccine was available, only 5 said they would not, and some stated they were undecided.

Should kids be in crowds yet? - 52 percent said children can go to crowded indoor places -- if they wear a mask. Just 2 percent of health experts said an unvaccinated child could do this unmasked.

Can multiple families with vaccinated parents and unvaccinated kids gather without masks? - The NYT reports, "More than half of experts said unvaccinated children from different families should not gather indoors," and 36 percent said they would allow this if it was a limited number of families, but 26 percent said, "Families should maintain all COVID precautions."

What about outdoor activities where a mask cannot be worn like swimming and eating outside? - 80 percent of the experts felt that these activities would be "low risk" and 69 percent said, "Children can somewhat safely do this." 

Can kids take part in indoor dining or sleepaway camp safely? - 75 percent of the experts note, "Children probably can’t safely do them this summer," noting that eating outdoors and skipping sleepaway camp this summer is a safer choice. 

Should unvaccinated kids fly this summer? - 86 percent of the experts said if the child is masked it is "most likely safe," but they also suggest double masking and limiting the number of flights. Find out a safer summer travel idea for families with unvaccinated kids.

Are masks needed for outside play and sports? - For the time being, yes. Nearly 66 percent of the health experts said unvaccinated children should still wear masks at playgrounds and while playing outdoor sports.

Stay up to date on the latest COVID news and segments from The Doctors.

More: Why Getting Your 2nd COVID Shot Matters

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