As of now, there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved for children under 12, which means families are left wondering if it’s safe to travel with their little ones and how to do so while minimizing risk.
“The answer to these questions ultimately comes down to parents’ overall risk tolerance and level of comfort; however, there are factors that should be considered when making a decision to take a trip with your children if they are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.
So what exactly should parents know about traveling with their unvaccinated kids? Below, Cherian and other experts share their advice.
Assess Underlying Health Risks
“I think every family will have to weigh the risks and the benefits of traveling with their unvaccinated children,” said Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “A family that has a child with underlying health conditions may not feel as comfortable traveling as compared to a family who has children that do not currently have medical conditions.”
While the risk of developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19 is generally lower in children than in adults, it’s still a major concern for those with underlying health conditions.
“Early evidence suggests children with diabetes, obesity, lung diseases or who are immunosuppressed may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” said Dr. Diane Kantaros, an internist and chief quality officer at Nuvance Health. “We are also still learning if there are any potential long-term complications from having COVID-19, regardless of severity of illness.”
If your child has an underlying health condition, you may consider taking a more cautious approach to travel for now. Their risk level can affect the type of trip you plan, accommodations, timing and other variables.
“Read the updated CDC guidelines, and talk with your child’s pediatrician to discuss any concerns,” recommended Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare with Cher. “The pediatrician can address any underlying health conditions that your child may have and the risks associated with traveling with certain conditions.”
Research Your Destination’s COVID-19 Situation
“I would ask what exactly is going on with the virus at your destination,” Cherian advised. “You can view various locations on the CDC’s website to get an idea of the risk assessment level for COVID-19 at your destination. This is also an important step to learn any specific requirements or local regulations at your destination regarding quarantine or testing.”
You’ll want to avoid vacation spots with notably high COVID-19 case numbers and variant rates. This is especially true for places with limited health care infrastructure, which may become easily overwhelmed amid big outbreaks. Look with a critical eye.
“The case rates may look like they are declining, but that is because when you take the number of cases and divide by the population (vaccinated and unvaccinated), the numbers look good,” said Robin L. Dillon-Merrill, a professor of information management specializing in decision and risk analysis at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “However, if you take the number of cases and divide by only the unvaccinated population, the rates are as bad as ever. I would advise that the first thing you consider is how much virus is circulating in the community of the travel destination, and if it is still high, don’t travel there.”
Looking at the vaccination rates in your potential destinations can also be a helpful way to compare vacation spots.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Nelson noted.