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Sharp Health News

Keep kids under 12 safe from COVID-19

July 22, 2021

Kids with masks on slide at playground
Just as we thought things were beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy — kids are at summer camp, face masks and social distancing are not required in many situations, and schools are preparing to open for in-person learning — a recent surge in COVID-19 cases has some parents concerned. Many wonder, how can we keep children under age 12 safe when they are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 case rates are on the rise, and the more contagious delta variant is responsible for over 82% of cases across the country. Additionally, almost all COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths reported are occurring in people who are not fully vaccinated.

When can kids get vaccinated?
One of the largest unvaccinated groups are kids under age 12. Although clinical trials in children age 6 months to 12 years are currently being conducted, it is not yet known when a COVID-19 vaccine will be granted approval for use in this age group.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine that has been granted emergency use authorization for children, and can only be given to those age 12 and older. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official recently estimated a COVID-19 vaccine will not receive emergency use authorization for use in kids younger than 12 until early or midwinter of this year.

"While vaccinated parents can relax a bit with themselves when in public, cases due to the delta variant are on the rise," Dr. Resham Batra, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says. "And it's difficult to tell if others around you have been vaccinated or not, which can be concerning for the parents of younger children who cannot yet be vaccinated."

How COVID-19 affects kids
Experts agree that children are less likely to become severely ill if infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. However, there is concern that a very small number of children with COVID-19 or who had a prior COVID-19 infection will experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). MIS-C is a rare, life-threatening condition that can cause dangerous inflammation in the eyes, skin, blood vessels and heart.

It is also unknown how COVID-19 affects children in the long term, even if they don't have symptoms (asymptomatic) when actively infected. Additionally, information is still being gathered to determine whether the delta variant may lead to a greater number of infections or more serious illness in children than seen with earlier variants.

To mask or not to mask
So, how can parents protect their young kids? To start, the California Department of Public Health announced that it once again recommends that everyone 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a facial covering when in a public indoor setting. The agency also announced all students, staff and visitors will be required to wear face masks while indoors in K through 12 schools.

Masks remain required for all people — vaccinated or unvaccinated — on public transport and in emergency shelters and cooling centers, health care settings, correctional and detention facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care settings.

"Along with wearing a mask in certain situations indoors, parents may also want to have their children avoid crowds," Dr. Batra says. "And they should continue to remind kids of the importance of hand-washing."

5 tips to keep kids safe
To find a balance between allowing children to enjoy their summer activities and attend school in the fall while also staying healthy and safe, experts offer these 5 tips:

  1. Participate in activities in smaller groups, away from large crowds and outdoors, when possible.
  2. Schedule activities with friends and family who are vaccinated and share a similar philosophy about COVID-19 precautions.
  3. Talk to the people your kids are around — summer camp staff, coaches, parents of friends, extended family members — to learn the level of safety measures being practiced and whether you are comfortable with their precautions.
  4. Review the school's plans for keeping kids safe when they return to school, and ensure there are plans to communicate, implement and reinforce appropriate mitigation strategies if the case rate among students and staff begins to rise.
  5. Wear a face mask to show your child support and provide a positive example.
Parents are also encouraged to keep an eye on the COVID-19 case numbers and vaccination rate in their community, and adjust activity participation as the risk for exposure changes. Areas with lower vaccination rates are seeing a concerning increase in the number of unvaccinated people — including children and teens — becoming ill, with some requiring hospitalization.

"The more vaccinated people there are, the less chance they will get sick and spread the virus to others, thus keeping children who are ineligible to be vaccinated safer," Dr. Batra says. "It's up to parents, older siblings and everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated protects you and the loved ones around you."

Sharp HealthCare joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in encouraging everyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

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