Kids won’t be fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving, and that’s creating a dilemma for some parents
(Tribune News Service) — For many families, this Thanksgiving will represent a return to normalcy, thanks to COVID-19 vaccines.
But for some parents, the holiday presents yet another dilemma: Should they gather with friends and family, given that children ages 5 to 11 will be only partially vaccinated by Thanksgiving, and younger kids won’t be vaccinated at all?
Children ages 5 to 11 became eligible for their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine early this month, but two doses three weeks apart are required. A person is not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second dose, which for newly vaccinated children will be nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving has passed — at the earliest.
Experts say the decision boils down to the circumstances of each individual celebration, and how much risk parents are comfortable assuming. Last year at this time, local leaders were discouraging people from gathering for the holiday. This year, the decision is more nuanced.
There’s not much data on how protected children may be after only one dose, but some adults have contracted COVID-19 before their second doses, doctors say.
“It honestly has to do with risk tolerance, and there’s never going to be zero risk,” said Dr. Laura Zimmerman, a primary care doctor at Rush University Medical Center and chief medical officer for Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team, or IMPACT, an advocacy group that fights COVID-19 misinformation. “The safest thing is always going to be to have as many people as possible at the gathering vaccinated, and then it’s just a matter of whether the benefits outweigh the risks.”
Adults who are eligible for booster shots should also have those before the holiday to make the gathering as safe as possible, she said.
Zimmerman has two sons, ages 9 and 4. This year, she’s considering celebrating Thanksgiving with extended family. Her 9-year-old will be partially vaccinated by Thanksgiving, and the adults will all be fully vaccinated.
“It’s been such a hard almost-two years now for everyone, and this is one of the first times we’re all gathering together,” Zimmerman said. “This year will be very special because last year we had a completely virtual Thanksgiving.”
Payton Ervin, of Naperville, also plans to get together with relatives this Thanksgiving, after a very small celebration last year. Last year, Ervin didn’t gather with most of her extended family because she worried about potentially exposing her grandparents and others with health issues to COVID-19.
This year, everyone at the gathering — except Ervin’s 9-year-old daughter, Sophie Ervin — will be fully vaccinated, and in many cases will have received boosters as well. Sophie got her first shot after school this week.
The family plans to rent a nearby Airbnb so there’s room for everyone to celebrate.
“It’s been very depressing for everyone because this has gone on for about two years,” Ervin said. “For us to be able to finally gather as family, it’s a very nice feeling.”
Other families, however, are planning for another solitary Thanksgiving.
Normally, Dr. Eve Bloomgarden would fly with her husband and two kids, ages 6 and 4, to the East Coast to visit family for the holiday. But they stayed home last year, and are doing the same this year.
Bloomgarden’s 6-year-old daughter will be only partially vaccinated by Thanksgiving.
“I personally feel like we’re so close to having everybody fully vaccinated, but not there yet. Why give up now?” she said. “I would hate to think we got all the way here and then gave up in the last mile of the marathon.”
But Bloomgarden, a Northwestern Medicine endocrinologist who is also chief operating officer and co-founder of IMPACT, said each family has to evaluate its unique circumstances.
For example, a situation where everyone at a gathering is fully vaccinated except for children from one household would likely be safer than one in which half of the people at a gathering of multiple households haven’t gotten shots.
Though vaccinated people can get breakthrough COVID-19 infections, they’re less likely to get COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To make gatherings safer, people may also want to keep their celebrations on the smaller side, said Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of medicine in epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. People may want to take COVID-19 tests before gatherings, especially if they’re going to include people traveling from other states, she said.
And they should make sure they’re all on the same page when it comes to everyday precautions, such as vaccinations, mask-wearing and hand-washing, she said.
“We want to try to minimize risk but still have people try to enjoy this time with their families,” Khan said. For her own Thanksgiving, Khan is planning to celebrate with just her spouse, her kids and her parents.
Melinda Resnick, of Northbrook, is also planning a smaller feast this year.
Her son Liam Resnick, 8, was among the first kids in Illinois to get vaccinated on Nov. 3. He was literally first in line at a clinic that morning because he wanted to be fully vaccinated in time for a family trip to Israel in December.
He’s scheduled for his second dose the day before Thanksgiving.
Usually, the family travels to Minnesota or the East Coast to celebrate the holiday with extended family. This year, they’re staying put in Northbrook again.
“It’s the last year, God willing, that we’re going to not do anything,” Melinda Resnick said.
But she’s excited that Liam will be fully vaccinated in time to visit Israel next month, where he’ll see his older sister and other relatives.
“I’m looking forward to everyone being together in a different way,” Melinda Resnick said. “When you get together as family, the day itself isn’t as important as the gathering.”
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