Unfortunately, we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is more contagious than the virus that was circulating last year. That means it is easier to spread from one person to the next. Those who are unvaccinated (including children) are more likely to catch this virus from others, and they are more likely to spread it, too. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Allison Messina, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, updates parents as kids prepare to return to school.
We know that vaccinations are the best bet in protecting ourselves and our children. What is the current situation for kids and vaccines?
Right now, COVID-19 vaccinations are available for kids 12 and up. The most effective strategy is vaccination. If you have a child over 12, talk to your pediatrician about getting the Pfizer vaccine for your child. This is a two-dose vaccine, three weeks apart, so getting them vaccinated as soon as possible will offer the best protection. Currently, there is no vaccine available for children under 12. However, the pharmaceutical companies are working on getting a vaccination approved. We hope to hear more about that soon.
This leaves many school children unvaccinated. What can families do to protect their kids?
At this time, with coronavirus on a steep incline, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending all children wear masks in school. This is a simple measure that people can employ to limit the aerosol droplets that can come from the mouth and nose when we talk, cough or breathe. Of course, parents and teachers should also encourage good hand hygiene as well — hand washing and hand sanitizing are important. Equally important is to not send children to school if they are ill. If your child has symptoms of COVID-19 (which are in many cases identical to common cold symptoms), speak with their pediatrician about being seen in the office and possibly getting tested for COVID.
Unlike last year, masks are no longer required in school. Knowing that many other kids are not wearing masks, should we be sending our child to school with a specific kind?
Per CDC guidelines, it continues to be the recommendation that persons ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 wear a mask when in an indoor, public space. This would apply to school classrooms. Masks should fit snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face. If cloth masks are worn, they would be made with tightly woven fabrics that do not let light through when held up to the light. They should have two or three layers of fabric. Alternatively, a single use, disposable medical procedure mask could be worn as well. If this type of mask is chosen, it still needs to fit correctly. Small, disposable procedure masks are available in child sizes.
What are some other steps parents can take to keep their children healthy and prevent illness?
In households with children too young to be vaccinated, encourage the older members of the family to get vaccinated. Most children catch COVID-19 from the adults around them. Be sure children are up to date on all of their other vaccines, including the yearly vaccine for influenza.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can download our free Pocket Doc app, which features a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.