Advice for families with unvaccinated kids

Published May 28, 2021


Written by Angela Hewlett, MD, MS, James Lawler, MD, MPH, John Martin-Lowe, PhD, Daniel Johnson, MD, Mara Broadhurst, MD, PhD and David Brett-Major, MD, MPH.

picture of a family

Anyone 12 and up can now get vaccinated. Which leaves many families wondering: Which activities are safe for my young kids?

Unvaccinated kids are still at risk of acquiring COVID-19. See what our infectious diseases experts recommend for families.

Is it safe for children under 12 to go to the store where people are no longer required to wear masks?

Unvaccinated children should continue to wear masks in public places or around others that do not live in their household. 

At a store where masks are no longer required, unvaccinated adults and children will likely be present. The safest thing for unvaccinated children is to avoid indoor public settings when possible. If unvaccinated children need to be out in public, ensure they wear a mask correctly. 

Face masks should: 

  • Completely cover the nose and chin 
  • Fit well without gaps around the edges
  • Be hospital-grade or multi-ply cotton/synthetic

A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn't be able to see a light or blow a candle out through the mask.

Should unvaccinated children eat indoors at a restaurant?

Until our community transmission rates are lower and more people are vaccinated, it is still safest for unvaccinated children to avoid indoor settings where masks are not worn. This includes indoor dining at a restaurant.

Should unvaccinated children travel? If parents must travel with children, what precautions do you advise?

Travel means lots of potential for exposure, especially in crowded places like airports. Take these precautions while traveling:

  • Ensure your child wears a mask when around others
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently
  • Avoid crowds and confined spaces

Everyone – including fully vaccinated people – must wear masks on planes, buses and trains and in airports.

Driving is often safer than flying, but plan your driving trip to avoid crowded public places. If you travel to see family or friends, ensure they are vaccinated to make activities safer for everyone.

It is even more important that your unvaccinated kids wear masks to protect themselves and others if your group includes:

  • Other unvaccinated children 
  • Unvaccinated adults
  • Someone who is immunocompromised or high risk

When traveling, outdoor activities are always safer than indoor activities. You can also check local COVID-19 infection rates for your destination.

How safe are playdates?

Outdoor playdates with parent supervision where kids can maintain distancing are the safest way for kids to play together. When unvaccinated kids aren't 6 feet apart or need to go indoors (for example, to use the restroom), they should wear a mask.

Indoor playdates with unvaccinated children from multiple households are riskier than outdoor ones. The level of risk depends on whether:

  • Parents and other family members are all vaccinated
  • People with high-risk medical conditions (immunosuppression, significant health problems) are involved
  • Other families are being careful to avoid large gatherings or other risky situations  

A small gathering with families who follow similar safety practices is lower risk.

Slumber parties involving unvaccinated children are not recommended, as they create a high risk for transmission of the virus.

What about places of worship like churches, synagogues, mosques and temples?

Unvaccinated children should always wear a mask in any indoor public setting, including places of worship. The level of risk depends on whether people take precautions (distancing, masking, etc.) and what people do. Singing and loud vocalization dramatically increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Multiple outbreaks have been attributed to singing in church choirs. Just like other public places, a place of worship will likely have people from multiple households. Some will be unvaccinated, which increases the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Can fully vaccinated parents attend public events with unvaccinated kids?

Activities are safest when everyone is fully vaccinated. Risk still exists for younger children who are not yet eligible for vaccines. Their risk is higher in indoor spaces and events where multiple people from different households gather. Unvaccinated children should continue to wear a mask when indoors, and some fully vaccinated parents can do so as well to model behavior for their children and support their mask wearing. The best way to keep your unvaccinated kids safe is to ensure that their contacts (family members, etc.) are vaccinated. 

It is rare for fully vaccinated adults to acquire COVID-19, but it is still possible. It is also possible for vaccinated persons to become infected and potentially pass the infection to others, although vaccines appear to reduce this risk significantly.