Tips for travel with unvaccinated children

July 27, 2021 in Travel Health  •  By Miles Varn, MD

All the adults and teens in your family have received their COVID-19 vaccines and you’re excited to get back to traveling this summer. There’s one concern that’s holding you back though—your 9-year-old is too young to get vaccinated. So how can you make travel safer for everyone in your family?

While most children who contract COVID-19 don’t get seriously ill, there is still some risk of serious disease, especially for children with underlying health conditions like diabetes and other conditions that weaken the immune system. In addition, unvaccinated children with a mild or asymptomatic case of the virus may pass the disease to unvaccinated adults or people who have immune systems that are weaker due to a chronic condition, cancer treatment, or taking immunosuppressant medications after an organ transplant or for a condition like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn’s disease.

Having an unvaccinated young child doesn’t mean you need to spend another summer at home, however. There are a number of steps you can take to lower the risk to your child and others who are more vulnerable to COVID-19:

  • Plan your trip carefully: Consider both the number of current COVID-19 cases at your potential destination and the percentage of the population that’s been vaccinated. Places with higher rates of community transmission and lower rates of vaccination increase your child’s risk of coming into contact with someone who has the virus.
  • Wear a mask for extra protection: While many places no longer require you to wear a mask while indoors, it’s advisable, and in some cases required, for you and your child to wear one in some situations. For example, the whole family should mask up when using public transportation and when in an airport, since crowded TSA screening lines and food venues can put you in close proximity to large groups of people.
  • Consider a road trip: It’s easier to control your exposure to others when traveling by car rather than public transportation. You can also pack your own food and snacks for the trip so you don’t need to spend time in crowded restaurants or you can use drive-through or curbside pickup. For bathroom stops, the whole family should wear a mask and make sure to thoroughly wash their hands.
  • Choose outdoor activities and time them to avoid crowds: While your children may be clamoring for a trip to a theme park, the less risky choice this summer is to plan a trip where your family can take part in a range of outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, and boating. Planning your activities for off-peak times of day can also reduce the number of people you come into contact with. Try an early morning hike or swim at the beach or schedule activities when other people usually have dinner. Early and later in the day activities also reduce your sun exposure, an added bonus.
  • Your accommodations can also help you control exposure: Another thing to consider is where you’ll stay. While most hotels are going to great lengths to sanitize rooms and public spaces, you’ll be around more people than you would be if you rented a house. Renting also gives you the flexibility to make your own meals or get takeout and spend less time in crowded restaurants.
  • Talk with friends and family you’ll be visiting: If you’re going to visit family and friends, first talk with them about their vaccination status and what precautions they’d like you to take in terms of wearing a mask and social distancing.
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