Earlier this month, Ohio lifted the statewide mandate on wearing masks in public. This change in policy came shortly after updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assuring fully vaccinated people that they can safely go without masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. However, those new recommendations are not helpful for the many children who remain unvaccinated, especially those under 12, who are not yet eligible to get shots.
The safest way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect yourself and your family is through vaccination. In the United States, three vaccines are available for anyone 18 and older, and all three have been shown to be extremely safe and effective in clinical trials and now in widespread use. Children 12 to 17 years old are eligible only for the Pfizer vaccine, although Moderna recently reported excellent results in its trials with children, so that vaccine may also become available soon.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children who are old enough get the COVID-19 vaccine and that kids can get other routine vaccines the same day or around the same time.
For those who are unable or unwilling to get the vaccine, it’s still as important as ever to continue the same safety measures we are all so used to: social distancing and, for anyone 2 years of age and older, wearing a well-fitting mask.
Masks have been proven to protect both the wearers and those around them, especially if they are unvaccinated. There are some situations where masks are not necessary. For instance, family members living in the same household do not need to wear masks when gathering indoors or outside, even if some people in the family are unvaccinated.
When outdoors, it is not necessary to wear a mask if going for a walk or exercising alone or with members of the same household, or if unvaccinated kids are at small gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends or in socially distanced activities. In addition, masks should not be worn while swimming or when they may cause a safety risk, such as during gymnastics, cheer or wrestling. They should also not be worn by kids under 2. However, in most other situations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC still recommend wearing a mask until you are fully vaccinated.
For families with children who aren’t old enough to receive a vaccine, it can be difficult to convince them to still wear their masks, especially if the rest of the family is now fully vaccinated and can go out mask-free. Therefore, parents and older siblings who are vaccinated may consider still masking up, so that younger siblings and children don’t feel singled out. Parents may want to model proper mask-wearing behavior, especially if going to a more crowded location like a grocery store or mall. They may also choose to run errands without their unvaccinated kids if they feel safe going out in public without their masks and want some mask-free time.
Again, while masks and social distancing are important ways to keep the family healthy and slow the spread of COVID, vaccination is ultimately the best protection we can get. Research has shown that the vaccines are extremely safe and effective for anyone 12 years of age and older, and hopefully we can start vaccinating even younger kids very soon.
Until then, it’s best to keep following the CDC’s advice and wear those pesky masks and continue to socially distance.
You should also follow my advice to have a safe and enjoyable summer.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.