I'm vaccinated, my kids aren't. Will that ruin our summer plans?

In this week's Pandemic Problems column, a reader asks: Will I be stuck in "pandemic purgatory" this summer?

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published April 22, 2021 7:00AM (EDT)

Mother in swimsuit applying protective face mask on daughter (Getty Images)
Mother in swimsuit applying protective face mask on daughter (Getty Images)

Dear Pandemic Problems,

I have a six-year-old and an eight-year-old. It should come as no surprise to you that the pandemic has been hard with two kids. Not only have I had to maintain my full-time job in sales, but I spent most of last year being an unofficial teaching aide for first and third grade Zoom.

My husband is helpful, but given the flexibility of my job and its hours, I've taken on more responsibilities with the kids and their schooling. Fortunately, they are back in school in person, but there were definitely some days I wanted to pull my hair out. And honestly, some days I still do.

Anyway, I write to you because I'm anxious about what the summer will bring, and what it will mean for my half-vaccinated family. I'm getting my second Pfizer shot this week, and my husband is getting his next week. But when will my kids be able to get vaccinated? We've been invited to every summer event imaginable— weddings, reunions, and block parties. We so badly want to have a normal summer — whatever that means — with our friends and family. But it feels a bit risky with unvaccinated kids. My biggest fear is that the world will move on this summer, and parents like myself will still be stuck in our own pandemic purgatory. Any advice on how to have a fun summer — rather than another lockdown like last year?


A Parent in Purgatory

Dear A Parent in Purgatory,

I can't imagine what it's been to be a parent during this pandemic. All I know is what I hear from friends and family, or read in stories with depressing headlines like "The Primal Scream: America's Mothers are in Crisis."

These headlines, this so-called "primal scream," is your reality. Which is why I so badly want you to have a "normal" summer — like you said, "whatever that means." I want you to be able to visit with your family, visit friends, go to a carnival, attend a birthday party at a Chuck E.  Cheese, and not have to worry about your children getting COVID-19.

But it's looking more and more like that won't necessarily be the case.

At the same time, I'm also hopeful it won't be as bad as what the anxious part of your mind is conjuring.

The pandemic has certainly exposed the lie that working mothers can have a work-life "balance." It's also reiterated how when a country prioritizes profit and patriarchy over the needs of every community, including working parents, it's the women who suffer the most. Fortunately, you've been able to keep your job, but I sense from your letter it's been a struggle and you're exhausted.

You ask: When will my kids be able to get vaccinated? That's a very good question. In late March, Pfizer released results from its clinical trial for children between 12 and 15 which showed that its vaccine had 100 percent efficacy and "robust antibody responses." Pfizer also recently requested to expand use of its adolescents within this age range, too. Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials for those under the age of 12 now.

It is standard practice to test older children first, because children of different ages can have a different response to the vaccine. As a recent Nature article explained, the goal of these trials is to find a balance between the correct age and dosage of the vaccine in which a strong immune response is triggered without too many side effects. Children have different immune systems since they haven't been exposed to as much crap as adults. So teens will likely be able to get the vaccine this fall, but for elementary school-aged children — like yours — it might not be until the beginning of 2022.

I know this is super frustrating, because it's not like kids can't get the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), K-12 aged kids account for slightly less than 10 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Fortuitously, younger children are more likely to be  asymptomatic and have less severe outcomes. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is also a reported condition associated with COVID-19 that has been affecting children's health. And like many aspects of this pandemic, Black and Hispanic children carry the burden of COVID-19 cases. The CDC notes that Black children and Hispanic children are also associated with increased risks for hospitalization.

The truth is children aren't 100 percent protected from COVID-19 — and even if all the adults are vaccinated, if there are other unvaccinated children around, there is still a risk of transmission.

I know this is disappointing, as it means that yes, your family might feel more restricted this summer. But I don't think that you're looking at summer full of FOMO (fear of missing out) in another parental lockdown. Epidemiologists with school-aged children recently shared with The New York Times how they plan on vacationing and actually doing things this summer which will require the same safety precautions as now: making sure that everyone in your group over 2 wears a mask, maintaining six feet from people outside your household, avoiding big crowds, and washing hands frequently. And frankly, children or no children, this is what most people will be doing this summer too. Mask mandates aren't going anywhere — especially when it comes to public gatherings.

My advice on how to have a fun summer would be this: stay off social media, which can amplify any FOMO you might feel, and make an effort to do things you actually enjoy doing with your family. And on the hard days, remember this won't last forever. This is one more weird-ish summer, but definitely won't be as weird as last year. However, on days when you feel that primal scream bubbling up inside, remember you're not alone. And to prove that, you can listen to a catalog of screams throughout the pandemic from the now defunct Just Scream hotline — which by the way is no longer taking scream calls, but instead is taking messages of hope. Indeed, though you may feel a little hopeless about this summer, know that there is hope.


Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is an advice column that answers readers' pandemic questions — often with help from public health data, philosophy professors and therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing."  Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at nkarlis@salon.com. Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

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By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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