Covid Safe Advice For Families When Kids Aren't Vaccinated

By Dr. Katelyn Jetelina - May 6, 2021

Covid Safe Advice For Families When Kids Aren't Vaccinated

Scientific tips from Dr. Katelyn Jetelina on parenting during the pandemic

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina is a professor in Epidemiology, holding a Masters in Public Health and a PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She also has a baby (7 months) and a toddler (23 months). She runs the website Your Local Epidemiologist, making pandemic-related data understandable to the general public. You can also find her on Facebook.

**The information in this post is current as of May 2021.**

Parents are getting shots, but kids under 12 won’t be vaccinated until 2022. Now what?

While there are helpful CDC tips on deciding to go back to school or ensuring a child’s emotional wellbeing, there is zero federal guidance about this very situation. So, we as parents have tough decisions to make.

I threw together some tips grounded in science:

1.  For now, just assume that every stranger is unvaccinated.

2. There is risk in everything you and your kids do. Only YOU can outweigh benefit with risk. If you’re unsure, seek guidance from trusted sources, like your child’s healthcare provider.

3. There’s a small chance you can harbor the virus in your nasal passageway. So, if you want to continue to protect your kids, wear that mask in public. At the grocery store. At the park. At work. Even if no one else is. Own it. This will ensure that you don’t bring the virus back home to your kids.

4. If you have a kiddo under 1, they’re considered high risk. Your child is also considered high risk if they have:

  • Asthma

  • Diabetes

  • Genetic, neurologic, or metabolic conditions

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Heart disease since birth

  • Immunosuppression (weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or being on medications that weaken the immune system)

  • Medical complexity (children with multiple chronic conditions that affect many parts of the body, or are dependent on technology and other significant supports for daily life)

  • Obesity

If your child falls into one of these categories, you should be extra careful.

5. If you’re going to let your guard down, do it with people that are in your same risk/benefit ratio bubble. For example, have a playdate with people you know are careful like you.

What am I comfortable doing with my own family?

I’ve gotten thousands of messages asking about my behaviors with my girls. So, I thought I would describe some of our daily activities. All in all, I would say my family is about halfway back to normal.

Context: I’m in Texas where transmission is relatively low. I have a 7-month-old and a 23-month-old. Both my husband and I (and grandparents) are vaccinated. And, we are lucky enough to have healthy girls.


  • Both my girls started childcare last month. This was after avoiding it for more than a year due to the pandemic. We trust this child care a LOT. They are COVID19 aware, but not the best at implementing policies on a consistent basis. I wish they were better, but they try.

  • If my husband and I go out for date night, the grandparents watch them. We’ve consistently had transparent conversations with them. Not only on what to do (and do not to do) with the girls, but also what they are comfortable with (because some of them are high risk).


  • I had a playdate last weekend for the first time. Two other toddlers, two other vaccinated moms, and one vaccinated non-mom (so 4 adults and 4 kids in total). We stayed outside and drank plenty of wine while keeping our distance (but nothing too awkward). The kids didn’t wear masks.

Daily activities

  • Parks: We definitely go to the park. And often. The park isn’t too crowded, but most parents wear masks, which makes me feel so much better. I would say about half the kids do too, but they often fall off. I don’t get too nervous unless the kid is older (12+ years). I don’t clean any of the park equipment, but do give a hand sanitizer squirt to my toddler on our way home. Here are some CDC tips about going to the park.
  • Farmers markets: We go every weekend. But, our little town is SO good with masks. I would say 95% of those at the farmers market wear masks. If people didn’t wear masks (I think around 75% would be my comfort level), I would avoid it.

  • Grocery stores: We try to avoid taking the girls if we can. But, obviously, this is just sometimes not possible. They sit in the cart and I don’t sanitize it, I do try and “park” the cart away from other adults.

  • Restaurants: We go out to eat, but only on patios. Thankfully the Texas weather is forgiving right now.

  • Religious services: My little family isn’t religious, but I do know a LOT of churches have fantastic services outside. I would feel comfortable going to one if it was outside and people wore masks.

  • Sports: There is zero federal guidance (or studies) around sports among young kids (most guidance is around high schoolers). You, as a parent, need to weigh benefits (exercise, quality of life) with risk (potential that the kids will get COVID19). If my girls were old enough for sports, I would feel comfortable if the sport was outside (think soccer or baseball), minimal contact (unlike wrestling, is that a sport for little ones?), and if the coaches wore cloth masks.

Birthday parties

I’m planning a birthday party for my daughter at the end of May. She’s never had a birthday party (thanks to COVID19). I am SO excited. On the invitation I made it clear, though:

  1. Only vaccinated adults (If I knew someone was not healthy enough for the vaccine, I would reach out to them individually)

  2. Keeping it outside

  3. Keeping it small (family and a few family friends). So, if the pandemic gets out of control, it’s easy to cancel at the last minute. I know they would understand.

  4. My daughter will blow out candles, but I’ll have separate cupcakes for the guests.


I’ve taken my girls on a flight. This was after their great-grandparents were fully inoculated and could finally meet my youngest. I will say, this was incredibly stressful for me. I guess I just don’t have that much trust in strangers re: COVID19. Here are some tips:

  1. Choose an airline that you trust and that enforces masks.

  2. I didn’t pre-clean the tray table, although I probably should have. But, given that my toddler was eating stuff off the floor, I don’t know how much good this would have done if COVID19 was on the surfaces.

  3. The terminals were crowded. So, at baggage claim my husband took the girls outside while I waited for the luggage.

  4. I tried to get my 23-month-old to wear a mask, but that went as well as you could imagine. I kept my 7-month-old close to my chest the entire time.

I’m not perfect. No parent is. But we are doing the best we can. I hope this glimpse helps you make informed decisions for your little ones.

Love, Dr. Katelyn Jetelina

Your Local Epidemiologist


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