Q: Does my unvaccinated child still need to wear a mask if the rest of our family has gotten their shots?
A: New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors 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's best for everyone.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
For inside activities, family members who live in the same household do not need to wear masks when they are together. Schools and child care centers may have different guidelines about mask wearing indoors, so check with officials in those places.
For outside activities, anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated, including children, should still wear masks, except:
— For activities with members of your household, such as a bike ride or walk
— At small gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends
— During water sports like swimming and diving or sports where masks could pose a safety risk like gymnastics, cheer stunts, tumbling and wrestling
— In activities where individuals can keep a distance like golf and singles tennis
— For children under 2 years old
Families should continue to engage their children in school and community activities, both indoors and outdoors. Children and adolescents who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 should continue to wear masks when social distancing isn't possible.
There is not yet a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under age 12. That means masks are still an important way to protect them. And because unvaccinated children can still transmit the virus to others, mask wearing protects others as well.
Parents, if you are vaccinated and your children are not, you can choose to go without a mask, of course. But you could instead choose to model mask-wearing behavior in support of your children when you are all out together. For example, everyone can wear masks for a trip to the grocery store or to the park.
When some older siblings are vaccinated, younger ones who aren't vaccinated might feel it's unfair that they have to wear a mask. If they're hanging out with friends together, everyone could agree to wear masks anyway. Explain the importance of mask-wearing 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 final dose of the vaccine. Children ages 12 and older can get the two-dose Pfizer vaccine at this time, so they are fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose. Until then, they should continue to wear a mask in public places.
There will be times when you are around a group of people and some will be wearing masks and others will not. Having a family plan about masks will help your children know what to expect. Include your children in family discussions about the best way to protect everyone inside and outside your home.
Ask your children and teens their opinions about mask wearing and vaccination. They have learned a lot about having considerations for others during this time and will probably provide some pearls of wisdom to include in your family's plan.
Along with physical distancing, hand-washing and vaccination when it becomes available for everyone, mask-wearing is key to reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection and spread. Children who are sick (fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea or vomiting) should stay home. If you have any concerns about your child's health, talk with your pediatrician.
Research shows the COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective and safe, and the AAP urges all children ages 12 and up and adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can. The vaccine is free, and states have vaccine finder websites to help locate vaccination locations. Clinical vaccine trials are now under way in children as young as 6 months old.
Until everyone can be protected with the vaccine, masks can keep your family safe and healthy.
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. She also is the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. For more information, go to HealthyChildren.org, the website for parents from the AAP.