When I’ve written about being able to travel again once you’re fully vaccinated one of the questions that comes up often is: what about families with children?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved in the U.S. for people 16 years old and above. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for people 18 and above. Clinical trials are ongoing for younger children. Moderna just started a trial for children as young as six months.
Right now, though, adults can get vaccinated and children cannot. You may be able to travel, but what about travel with your kids?
There are really two separate questions here,
- Is it reasonable to travel with children who haven’t been vaccinated?
- Will countries allow unvaccinated children to enter?
Is It Reasonable To Travel With Children?
I’m not one to compare Covid-19 to the flu. I was writing and warning about it when Anthony Fauci was still saying we shouldn’t be. But for children under 9 it is statistically less worrisome than flu. That doesn’t mean there is never any risk and indeed early in the pandemic we heard a lot about reactions similar to Kawasaki Syndrome.
Brown University Professor Emily Oster, who has studied Covid-19 data for the past year and writes about data-driven parenting, points out that being under 9 years old is basically the same thing as being vaccinated in terms of risk to their own health.
The big goal of vaccines is to reduce serious illness and death. That’s what we’re trying to produce with our vaccination. The vaccines we have take a huge risk of hospitalization and death for older adults and reduce it by 85, 95%. Just really big reductions in risk.
The thing is that your 9- or 10-year-old is already basically a vaccinated adult from that standpoint. I mean, it’s true. If you think about the reduction in hospitalization or death risk from being 10, rather than being 80, it’s 99.9%, 98%. It’s actually better than the Pfizer vaccine. I’m hoping that may be a helpful way for people to think about the relative risk for kids, because I think we’ve gotten to this space where it’s like, OK, well, until my kids are vaccinated, I can’t let them out. You’re letting the grandparents out. Let your kids out.
If young children get Covid – and there are always outliers, as with flu – “it’s a cold. And ultimately with vaccines it’s a cold for the rest of us. And we get those a lot from our kids and other people.”
Oster brings receipts, comparing the absolute peak of hospitalization during Covid-19 against peak flu hospitalization three years ago.
Credit: Emily Oster
She also shows that Covid-19 is less likely as a cause of death in children than homicide or heart disease.
Credit: Emily Oster
Bottom-line is that protecting your children doesn’t seem to be a reason not to travel with your young children once you’re vaccinated against Covid-19 and they are not, if you don’t keep them in a bubble during normal times.
The SIDS death rate for infants under 1 in this comparison period is eighty times higher than the death rate for COVID-19.
…kids get viruses. You cannot avoid the possibility they might get sick on vacation. But the presence of COVID-19 in a world of vaccinated adults does not change the risk of this very much at all.
However children can still get the virus and might spread it especially to those who are not yet vaccinated. So precautions like distancing, masking, and engaging primarily in outdoor activities with your children is most responsible as a means especially of protecting other people who are making the choice to be in poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
Will Children Be Allowed To Travel?
There are no prohibitions on U.S. domestic travel, so children are permitted to travel. In some cases there are quarantine or testing requirements that apply to children (children 5 years and older have to present an eligible negative test to avoid quarantine in Hawaii for instance). However many governments have closed their borders, or re-opened them with testing and quarantine.
I’m hopeful that I can visit Australia when they open – presumably with a vaccination requirement. I would like to see my family there, which has grown by two members during the pandemic. But will my young daughter be allowed to enter the country?
Countries like Iceland have eliminated quarantine requirements for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Children, for whom vaccines haven’t been approved, do not have this option.
Vaccines in lieu of quarantine are still new. There may be accommodations made as travel continues to open and more countries use vaccination as a criteria for hassle-free entry. Or they may require testing in lieu of quarantine for children. This hasn’t all been worked out yet.