Worried about what the Delta variant means for your unvaccinated children as they head back to school? You’re not alone.
Earlier this week UVM Children’s Hospital hosted a Q&A on Facebook Live with Dr. Rebecca Bell, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter (and mom of two daycare-age children) and the hospital’s Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Lewis First.
The takeaway: Vermont is in good shape. Schools, pediatricians, school nurses and health department officials are feeling optimistic about the school year. As long as folks can follow these basic guidelines:
Get vaccinated if you’re eligible. Get tested right away if you have symptoms. Rethink your travel plans. Wear masks indoors in public places, even if you’re vaccinated.
(Here’s where to get tested; most sites now take walk-ins. Here’s where to get the vaccine; everyone 12 and older is eligible.)
“Our goal is now to get everyone in school in-person, full time,” said Dr. Bell. “We really think we can do that in Vermont because we have a high vaccination rate, and our schools are committed to keeping young people safe.”
School will look a little different than it did last year. No daily screening check-ins, for example. And the schools won’t be focusing on cleaning surfaces as much as they did last year.
“But we will be doing the things that we know work,” said Bell. “Minimizing the spread of this respiratory virus with masks. We’re asking folks to stay home when they’re sick, pushing everyone to get vaccinated when you’re eligible, and to get tested when you’re sick.
“We really feel like we can do this.”
HESITANT ABOUT THE VACCINE FOR KIDS?
According to Dr. Bell, 11 million 12- to 17-year olds have now been vaccinated in the U.S. — 27,000 of those in Vermont. “This is a lot of data points, that’s a lot of reassurance,” she said. “This is the most closely watched vaccine we’ve ever had.”
WHEN WILL THE VACCINE BE READY FOR YOUNGER KIDS?
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being tested on thousands of children between the ages of 2 and 12 right now. “This is about safety,” said Dr. First. “This is about our children. We know there’s an urgency to get this out yesterday. But we need to make sure we’ve checked all the boxes and done it properly.”
The current estimation is that the vaccine will be ready for 5- to 11-year olds by November or December, said First.
“We’re all working together to get this to our children asap, as soon as it’s safe and the science tells us we can do it,” said First. “And I think it’s going to be pretty soon.”
IS IT SAFE TO SEND MY UNDER-2-YEAR-OLD, WHO CAN’T GET VACCINATED OR WEAR A MASK, TO DAYCARE?
Many of these childcare centers never shut down, Bell pointed out. They’ve been keeping our kids safe since March 2020.
“We’ve been keeping track of the numbers, and there really isn’t much transmission in childcare centers,” she said.
Still, there are other viruses around; kids are still getting colds. So it’s important for parents to have a back-up plan for when their kid wakes up and is coughing or congested and they can’t go to school.
WHAT ABOUT BREAKTHROUGH CASES?
Vaccinated people are very well protected from severe illness and death. But it’s still possible — especially with the highly transmissible Delta variant — for them to get infected, and to pass it along to others.
“When I’m out and about in public indoors, I wear a mask,” said Bell. “It’s a small thing for me to do. I feel really well protected from severe disease, but I don’t want to pass it on to my children, I don’t want to miss work.”
It is not necessary, Bell and First agreed, to wear a mask at home around your unvaccinated children — unless you are actively infected with COVID.
IS IT SAFE TO TAKE THE KIDS TO THE GROCERY STORE?
Yes, as long as they’re masked. “What we saw in contact tracing over the last year,” said Bell, is that the virus tended to spread in informal gatherings with friends and family. “The grocery store doesn’t tend to be a high risk place. People are in and out, not closely packed, you’re not eating and drinking with others near by.”
WHAT ARE WE SEEING WITH CHILDREN WHO GET COVID?
Vermont is seeing very few hospitalizations among children. “We don’t think right now, based on the data, that children are getting sicker with Delta,” said Bell. “What we’re seeing is way more children are getting infected, especially in areas where adults aren’t vaccinated.”
Here’s the full Q&A.