If you’re a fully vaccinated adult, there’s a good chance you’ve started planning your trip for this summer or later in 2021. But for those with children, it’s not that simple.
Currently, no COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children under the age of 12, which means families are wondering if it is safe to travel with their toddlers and how to do it while minimizing the risks.
“The answer to these questions ultimately comes down to the risk tolerance and comfort level of parents; however, there are certain factors that should be considered when deciding whether to take a trip with your children if they are not vaccinated, ”said Dr. Vivek Cherian, internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.
So what exactly should parents know about traveling with their unvaccinated children? Below, Cherian and other experts share their advice.
Assess the underlying health risks
“I think every family will need to weigh the risks and benefits of traveling with their unvaccinated children,” said Dr. Jean Moorjani, pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. “A family that has a child with underlying health conditions may not feel as comfortable traveling as a family that has children who are not currently suffering from health problems.”
Although the risk of developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19 is generally lower in children than in adults, it remains a major concern for people with underlying health conditions.
“Early evidence suggests that children with diabetes, obesity, lung disease, or who are immunocompromised may be at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19,” said Dr. Diane Kantaros, internist and head of quality at Nuvance Health. “We are also currently learning if there are any potential long-term complications from COVID-19, regardless of the severity of the disease.”
If your child has an underlying health condition, you may want to consider taking a more cautious approach to travel at this time. Their level of risk can affect the type of trip you are planning, accommodation, timing, and other variables.
“Read the updated CDC guidelines and speak with your child’s pediatrician to discuss any concerns,” recommended Cheryl Nelson, travel preparation expert and founder of Prepare with Cher. “The pediatrician can treat any underlying health condition your child may have and the risks associated with traveling with certain conditions.”
Find the COVID-19 situation at your destination
“I would ask what exactly is going on with the virus at your destination,” Cherian advised. “You can look at various locations on the CDC website to get an idea of the level of risk assessment for COVID-19 at your destination. This is also an important step in knowing any specific requirements or local regulations in your destination regarding quarantine or testing. “
You’ll want to avoid the holidays with particularly high COVID-19 case counts and variant rates. This is especially true for places with limited health care infrastructure, which can easily become overwhelmed by large epidemics. Watch with a critical eye.
“Case rates may seem like they’re going down, but that’s because when you take the number of cases and divide it by the population (vaccinated and unvaccinated) the numbers look good,” said Robin L. Dillon-Merrill , professor of information management specializing in decision and risk analysis at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “However, if you take the number of cases and divide by just the unvaccinated population, the rates are worse than ever. I would tell you that the first thing to consider is the amount of virus circulating in the community at the travel destination, and if it’s still high, don’t travel there. “
Looking at vaccination rates at your potential destinations can also be a useful way to compare vacation spots.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk of transmitting COVID-19,” Nelson noted.
Consider your mode of travel
“Driving is always ideal because it’s a confined environment. And with unvaccinated young children, it can be difficult to keep masks on for longer flights – or if they’re under 2, they can’t wear masks in the first place, ”Cherian said, noting that you come into contact with fewer people by traveling in your personal vehicle.
If driving isn’t a practical option, he suggested opting for shorter airplane trips to limit possible issues with children keeping their masks on for long periods of time. Keeping extra masks in your carry-on baggage can also be a good backup option in case they get lost or broken.
“If public transportation is required for your trip, check with the airline, bus or train company about their specific COVID-19 testing requirements and choose a company that adheres to cleanliness protocols. and social distancing, ”said Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, family physician and regional clinical director at Carbon Health. She also offered health tips for road trips in your own car.
“When you stop in the car to eat or use the toilet, wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes and make sure your whole family washes their hands or uses hand sanitizer regularly,” she says.
The type of accommodation you choose can also reduce the risk of COVID-19 for your unvaccinated toddlers.
“With unvaccinated children, the safest thing you can do at the end of the day (unless you’re not traveling) is to choose a vacation where you limit as many variables as possible. Going to the beach and choosing to rent a house instead of staying in a hotel, for example, will limit contact with other people whose immunization status is unknown, ”Cherian said.
“When it comes to accommodation, renting a house for your family rather than staying in a hotel, where you risk meeting other people in the lobby and shared spaces, tends to be the safer option. Said Curry-Winchell. “If you are reuniting with your extended family, consider the immunization status of your loved ones, especially those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, before you surrender.”
Determine the activities involved
“Another factor to consider is the activities you will be doing at your destination that will affect your level of exposure,” Cherian noted. “For example, will there be mostly outdoor activities and will you need to eat in large, crowded restaurants, or can you cook in a kitchen at a rental house.”
Hiking or sitting outside on an uncrowded beach is much less risky than doing indoor activities like going to the movies or other indoor entertainment venues. If you must dine out, look for a restaurant with a terrace. The idea is to minimize the number of potentially unvaccinated and COVID-19 positive people you expose your family to.
“During your trip, I recommend that you opt for outdoor activities like going for hikes or bike rides, having a garden scavenger hunt or planning a picnic,” said Curry-Winchell. “If the weather requires you to stay indoors, activities like decorating cookies, reading or watching movies are a great way to keep your kids busy. Finally, if you are going to a public or shared space where you will not know the immunization status of others, it is a good idea to bring your mask. “
Take your precautions
If you decide to continue your trip with your unvaccinated children, it is still important to take proper health and safety precautions, such as masking and practicing good hygiene.
“As a mother myself, I feel confident and secure when traveling with my unvaccinated children,” said Curry-Winchell. “We have an open dialogue about following health guidelines like social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding spending time with people who are not feeling well and, most importantly, implementing good hand washing habits.
Try to stay away from large groups of people and keep in touch with others outside when possible. Carry hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes to clean heavily affected surfaces on planes or rental cars.
“We have all been living with a pandemic for over a year now, so my last tip would be to remember your lifestyle before getting vaccinated, and keep that in mind, because even though you do benefit from the level of protection by being vaccinated, your unvaccinated children don’t, ”Cherian said.
Considering health and taking precautions will allow your family to maximize the joy and relaxation of a trip away from home, even if it’s only a short drive away.
“While it’s essential to be mindful of safety this summer, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun,” said Curry-Winchell. “After more than a year of the pandemic, taking time off and a change of scenery is good for you and the mental health of your children. If you have any doubts about the safety of your travel plans, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare providers or your pediatrician.