Sure, Go on Vacation with Your Unvaccinated Kids — Away from Unvaccinated People

Your unvaccinated child is nothing like a vaccinated grandma.

Photo by Luca Baini on Unsplash

Kids Aren’t the Only Ones to Worry About

But, some argue, these are only things to worry about if kids get infected. Instead, high immunization rates will lead to herd immunity that reduces spread of the virus and protects children from infections, they argue. It’s true that as vaccine coverage increases, virus circulation should decrease. But the idea that we’ll reach herd immunity by summer isn’t just wishful thinking — it’s mathematically impossible. Herd immunity is incredibly complex, but experts initially estimated it would take at least 70% of the population to be immune to reach herd immunity. That number has since inched upward toward 90% — and youth under 18 make up nearly a quarter of the US population. Even if we assume most teens will get vaccinated, the US has 60.5 million children ages 14 and younger, about 18% of the population. With every eligible adult vaccinated — an unlikely feat to say the least — we will fall well, well short of anything close to herd immunity. Only 13% of the US is vaccinated right now — about a quarter have received their first dose — and we’re just a few months away from summer. The Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker estimates it will take 5 months to vaccinate 75% of the population. NPR’s estimate based on CDC data is 85% coverage by January 2022.

What Can Families Do This Summer Then?

It’s not problematic to be optimistic about what we might be able to look forward to this summer. But that’s different from presuming we’ll be in the most optimistic scenario or drawing a comparison between unvaccinated children and vaccinated adults. In the most charitable interpretation of the Atlantic article, advice to parents that they can travel anywhere, meet with anyone, and do anything with their kids this summer is premature.

Photo by Juan Cruz Mountford on Unsplash

Tara Haelle is a science journalist, public speaker, and author of Vaccination Investigation and The Informed Parent. Follow her at @tarahaelle.

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