by dr. Yvonne A. Maldonado
Ask: Will my unvaccinated child still need to wear a mask if the rest of our family has received the injections?
A: New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to wear masks indoors or out in most cases. But we realize that families with children who are not yet old enough for a vaccine may find it difficult to decide what is best for everyone.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
For indoor activities, family members living in the same household do not need to wear a mask when they are together. Schools and nurseries may have different guidelines for wearing masks indoors, so check with officials in those places.
For outdoor activities, anyone who has not yet been fully vaccinated, including children, should still wear masks except:
For activities with members of your household, such as cycling or walking At small gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends During water sports such as swimming and diving or sports where masks can pose a safety risk, such as gymnastics, cheer stunts, tumbling and wrestling At activities where individuals can keep distance like golf and single tennis For children under 2 years old
Families should continue to involve their children in school and community activities, both indoors and out. Children and adolescents who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
There is no COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 12 yet. That means masks are still an important way to protect them. And because unvaccinated children can still transmit the virus to others, wearing a mask also protects others.
Parents, if you are vaccinated and your children are not, you can of course choose to go without a mask. But you might instead choose to model mask-wearing behaviors to support your kids when you’re all out and about together. For example, everyone can wear face masks for a trip to the supermarket or to the park.
When some older siblings have been vaccinated, younger siblings who have not been vaccinated may find it unfair that they have to wear a mask. If they hang out with friends, everyone can still agree to wear masks. Explain the importance of wearing a mask to your younger children and emphasize that they can still have fun and see their friends.
Remember that to be fully vaccinated you must be at least two weeks past your last dose of the vaccine. Children 12 years and older can currently receive the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, so they will be fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose. Until then, they must continue to wear a mask in public places.
There will be times when you will be around a group of people and some will wear masks and others will not. If you have a family plan about masks, your kids will know what to expect. Involve your children in family conversations about the best way to protect everyone inside and outside your home.
Ask your children and teens for their opinion on mask wearing and vaccination. They have learned a lot about being considerate of others during this time and will likely yield some pearls of wisdom to incorporate into your family’s plan.
In addition to physical distancing, hand washing and vaccination when it becomes available to everyone, wearing masks is key to reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection and spread. Children who are sick (fever, cough, stuffy nose, runny nose, diarrhea or vomiting) should stay at home. If you are concerned about your child’s health, please contact your pediatrician.
Research shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective and safe, and the AAP is urging all children 12 years and older and adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. The vaccine is free, and states have vaccine-finding websites to locate vaccination sites. Clinical vaccine trials are now underway in children as young as 6 months old.
Until everyone can be protected with the vaccine, masks can keep your family safe and sound.
dr. Yvonne Maldonado is the head of the Infectious Diseases Division of the Division of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. She is also the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.