This is the Nov 1, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, children and parenthood. Like what you read? Register to get it in your inbox every Monday.
It’s that time of year again. Halloween is over and before you know it, turkey will be on the table (or Tofurky, for our vegan readers).
For many of us, this holiday season will be so much better than last year when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and household mixing was treacherous. utilities, 69% of California residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and the virus appears to be receding. New infections and deaths in the US have fallen more than 45% since an increase in September.
And now vaccine accessibility for children ages 5 to 11 is within reach. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration’s panel of scientific advisors voted overwhelmingly to recommend that: access to the vaccine will be extended to younger children. California officials said they are preparing to offer doses to the roughly 3.5 million age group children statewide until the end of next week.
Even in the best-case scenario, however, many young children will not be fully vaccinated before Thanksgiving. We know that children are largely protected from the worst effects of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t exercise caution; COVID-19 now ranks eighth on the list of leading causes of death for children ages 5 to 11, claiming the lives of at least 94 children in this age group over the course of the pandemic.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
8-to-3: How risky are holiday gatherings for kids this year, especially for those who aren’t vaccinated?
RL: It depends on the situation they end up in. If parents and relatives are vaccinated, they are fairly well protected. But it gets a lot riskier when an unvaccinated person gets sick and everyone is in a crowded room. That would put a child at greater risk of becoming infected.
LM: It’s all about the context of the meeting. Generally speaking, when you’re talking about a bunch of vaccinated people and a few unvaccinated kids, health officials seem to think that’s probably okay. But if you have elderly relatives or people with weakened immune systems who may not have the full level of protection from their vaccinations, you may want to avoid large gatherings and take extra precautions.
RL: Children generally have a really lower risk. But one thing to really keep in mind is that if they get infected, they will be taken out of school. It’s very disturbing. They can also pose a threat to Grandma and Grandpa, who may be fully vaccinated, but if they get a breakthrough infection, put them at greater risk of serious complications.
8-to-3: How does flu season affect the risk of holiday gatherings this year? The term “twindemic” is circulating again.
RL: There was a lot of concern about just the regular flu season when COVID was very robust last year, and it ultimately didn’t happen, largely because the proven prevention methods for COVID also work for the flu. So many businesses were closed and the general recommendation was not to get together. And that’s just not the case this time. There is simply much more chance for people to contract the flu and other respiratory illnesses. And so I think there’s definitely a lot of concern this year about the possibility of the “twindemic.”
8-to-3: How can parents reduce the risks during this season of gatherings while still allowing their children to celebrate with loved ones?
RL: The first thing they can do is make sure everyone who comes to visit is vaccinated. Anyone who qualifies for the flu shot, 6 months or older, should get it. And older people and those who got their Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get their boosters. If you want to be super careful, do a corona rapid test just before the meeting.
LM: We are truly blessed to have beautiful weather here in California pretty much all year round. I know it seems very obvious, but outside is just a lot safer than inside, especially when people are flying in from many different places. There isn’t a single silver bullet to the pandemic, but if you put a lot of different protections on top of each other, you’re just going to make yourself and your family a lot safer and you can celebrate without too much worry.
RL: There are experts who say that if their children were too young to be vaccinated, they simply wouldn’t invite unvaccinated guests.
8-to-3: Last year, many people chose to test for COVID-19 in the days leading up to meetings. This was not always an effective safety measure, nor was it recommended by public health experts, as you can become contagious in the time between testing and collection. With that in mind, how can COVID-19 testing be used this holiday season?
RL The difference this year is that keyboard shortcuts are more accessible. If you’re about to go to an event and you take the test right before that, there’s a good chance he’ll make it if you’re highly contagious. PCR lab tests won’t be as helpful because that information will be a day or older by the time you get the results. I think the combination of using the rapid test plus vaccinating drastically reduces the risks. Last year it was much riskier when no one was vaccinated, and someone attending a meeting and having a false negative could lead to a potentially disastrous situation.
8-to-3: Is it possible for children aged 12 and under to be vaccinated before the end of the holiday period?
LM: Yes, it is certainly possible, based on the timeline discussed at the federal and state levels. Public health officials in California say they are preparing to begin vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds by the end of this week, meaning some young people may be able to get both required Pfizer injections through Thanksgiving, for example.
8-to-3: Are there any other things parents should think about as we head into the holidays?
RL: I want to make it clear that when these vaccines become available for younger children, that does not imply a requirement that Gov. [Gavin] Newsom has telegraphed about mandating vaccines as a condition of going to public and private classrooms. That statewide requirement isn’t likely to go into effect until next summer at the earliest.
LM The pandemic is very similar to many aspects of parenting, with many coming down to elements of risk. I personally know parents who are fine with their unvaccinated children being around unvaccinated adults. I also know parents on the other end of the spectrum who say, if you’re not vaccinated, stay away, we’ll see you later. So you need to determine what level of risk you are comfortable with and act accordingly.
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