By MADELINE HOLCOMBE
Families are getting an early gift this holiday season: the chance to protect their children between the ages of 5 and 11 against COVID-19 through vaccination.
For many, the winter holidays mean gathering with family and friends from near and far to share meals and quality time, situations that can quickly lead to the spread of COVID-19 – especially for those who are unvaccinated.
Until now, vaccines were only available to children age 12 or older. Then Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a version of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization for the Pfizer dose for 5- to 11-year-olds, about one-third the amount used in vaccines for adolescents and adults, and injections could be available quickly.
Many doctors, including Dr. Diego Chaves-Gnecco, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, are encouraging their patients’ parents to vaccinate as soon as possible in hopes of protecting children and those around them. Chaves-Gnecco, who is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, plans on bringing together his mother and his 7-year-old son this holiday season for the first time since the start of the pandemic – after the latter gets vaccinated.
“I wouldn’t recommend to anyone what I would not recommend to myself, my family and my community,” he said. “My son will get the vaccine as soon as it is available.”
With barriers to access like supply disparity and uneven appointment availability, it’s unlikely every child will have a chance to get a shot the first day doses are available, Chaves-Gnecco said. Children won’t be considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after their second Pfizer dose, and each dose must be at least 21 days apart.
With that in mind, here’s how to plan for the weeks – and holidays – ahead.
Holidays to aim for
There won’t be time for younger children to be fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, but it’s still possible to protect them for Christmas, Kwanzaa and end-of-year gatherings.
“Understandably, parents want to protect their children and may have otherwise decided not to see their family members or travel over the holidays,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “But now that their younger children are able to be vaccinated, they will be making very different decisions, including about seeing family indoors.”
Lise Niggemyer, a parent in the Seattle area, plans to have her 6-year-old daughter vaccinated before the holiday, not only to protect her child, but to prevent spread to her other family members.
“They have the vaccine and they’d much rather see the grandkids, but I would feel better knowing that I wasn’t unknowingly bringing it in the door or that someone one of my family members had seen in the past couple of days hadn’t transferred it over,” Niggemyer said.
If you’re hoping for your children to be fully vaccinated before holiday gatherings, aim for the following dates:
Nov. 19 for first dose
For the safest Christmas, the deadline for a child’s first dose is Nov. 19.
People start to see significant benefits of the first dose two weeks after their first shot, research has suggested. Having one dose before Thanksgiving or Hanukkah is better than nothing, Chaves-Gnecco said, but it takes both to ensure the optimal level of protection.
“They need to be fully vaccinated,” Wen said. “The partial protection of one vaccine isn’t sufficient.”
When scheduling the second dose, it is okay to be off by a couple of days if the three-week mark falls on a time when pharmacies and offices are closed for holidays.
Dec. 10 for second dose
In order to be fully protected by Christmas Eve, which is Dec. 24, children will need to get their second dose of the vaccine two weeks before – making Dec. 10 the effective deadline for that holiday.
If the holidays fall 10 or even seven days after the second dose, that may still provide enough protection, Wen said, but two weeks is the best bet.
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