Calgary experts weigh in on how to keep unvaccinated kids safe this summer

As Alberta heads toward re-opening, many parents are left wondering how to protect their unimmunized children throughout the summer months.

The province is set to lift virtually all public health restrictions on July 1, while wide swaths of the population still don’t have their COVID-19 shots, including children.

Vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12, leaving nearly 664,000 Alberta kids with no protection.

“I feel for parents … a lot of people’s children are unprotected and unvaccinated,” said Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Alberta Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Calgary.

She said there are some key steps parents can take to protect their kids as public health measures are removed.

“The first thing that everyone should do is encourage everyone around you to get [fully] vaccinated.” she said.

“The fewer the infections we have in our community, the safer our kids are going to be, including our unvaccinated children.”

Keep visits outside, avoid unvaccinated Albertans

Constantinescu advises parents to keep long-awaited visits with family and friends outdoors because that reduces the risk of viral transmission.

And Keeping kids home, even when they have minor symptoms, will prevent spread to other children.

She added that it’s okay to be “choosey” about who your children interact with.

Dr. Cora Constantinescu is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary. (Submitted by Dr. Cora Constantinescu)

“I, as a mom, am going to try to have my kids not hang out with any unvaccinated folks because we know if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at much higher risk of spreading the disease than if you’re vaccinated,” she said.

“The vaccine not only protects you but also prevents transmission of the disease to others.”

Ensuring your children’s other immunizations are up-to-date adds another layer of protection, according to Constantinescu.

“So if the fall comes and if for some reason we’re seeing another spike … and your child, who is unimmunized, gets COVID, at least you reduce the chances of a secondary infection such as a pneumonia or meningitis.”

University of Calgary pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Jim Kellner cautioned that while Alberta is entering a better stage of the pandemic, it isn’t over.

“While it’s a promising thing to be moving toward reducing public health measures, it doesn’t mean we don’t still have to have our guard up for situations that can be of concern,” said Kellner, who’s also a member of the national COVID-19 Immunity Taskforce.

Indoor gatherings, especially where there are a lot of unimmunized children, can still be risky he said, adding there can be issues with crowding, congestion and ventilation.

“Limit the size of the gathering. Limit the duration of the gathering. If at all possible, try to make it so it’s not super crowded or congested. And adults, get vaccinated,” he warned.

The question of masks

While the province is lifting its mask mandate (with some exceptions) in Stage 3 and Calgary city council will revisit its mask bylaw on July 5, it may not be time to ditch the mask for your child just yet.

“I think its going to depend on the state of the pandemic and how things go with the delta variant … I would say initially you should still remain prudent with our children,” said Kellner.

There are a number of factors parents should consider when deciding whether or not to mask their children indoors, according to Kellner.

This includes the vaccination status of others in attendance, the duration of the gathering and if it involves visiting high-risk people such as grandparents with underlying conditions — regardless of whether they’re immunized.

Vaccines for kids under 12

While many parents may be eager to have their younger children vaccinated, that’s likely a few months away.

Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials for children are ongoing.

Kellner expects it will be early fall before results will come out for Pfizer’s trials in six to 11 year olds. Moderna’s results will likely be a bit later, he said.

“It will be months from now … and I think we’ll have to anticipate the schools being opened in the fall and children under 12 not being immunized at all because we simply won’t have the data yet.”

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