NEWS

Is It Safe for Your Kids to Be Around People Who've Received a COVID Vaccine?

Grandfather getting Vaccine

Key Takeaways

  • While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective, kids under 5 are not eligible to receive them at this time.
  • Vaccinated people can still become infected with "breakthrough" infections.
  • Hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask usage remain essential.

Currently, most children and all teens can receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The exception is kids under 5 who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. The good news is that in the U.S., more than 200 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly 100 million have received a booster dose.

Even so, there are safety concerns for those whose children are not yet eligible for vaccination. Kids cannot get COVID-19 from someone who is vaccinated just because the vaccinated person got the shot (the vaccine itself does not cause recipients to shed virus). But kids could get infected via exposure to a vaccinated person who has a breakthrough infection.

Learn more about vaccine efficacy, breakthrough infections, boosters, and how they relate to how vaccinated people interact with unvaccinated children.

Breakthrough Infections

Vaccination has been successful at reducing COVID-19 infection—and especially severe illness. However, as you think about your unvaccinated children, it's important to remember that, while less likely, some vaccinated people will still get COVID-19.

Kawsar Talaat, MD

Breakthrough cases happen, and they are increasing in frequency, which is why I think it’s important for people to get boosters if they’re eligible.

— Kawsar Talaat, MD

These infections in vaccinated people are called "breakthrough infections." Breakthroughs can occur with vaccine-preventable diseases because vaccines are not 100% effective. If a vaccinated person has a breakthrough infection, it's usually a milder case—but they may transmit the virus to others.

"Breakthrough cases happen, and they are increasing in frequency, which is why I think it's important for people to get boosters if they're eligible," says
Kawsar Talaat, MD, associate professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "That will decrease the frequency of breakthrough cases and also decrease the risk of infection with Omicron," a newer variant of the virus, 

Vaccination is about protecting yourself, but it's also about protecting family and community members. It isn't yet about lowering our guard and declaring the whole pandemic over.

You Can’t Get COVID-19 From the Vaccine

Amina Ahmed, MD, professor of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital, explains that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both of the mRNA variety.

This type of vaccine uses chemical synthesis to reproduce a small portion of the virus. Since the vaccine contains no live virus, a person can neither catch COVID-19 nor spread the virus due to the injection.

Ahmed explains that with the current vaccines, "There's no live virus at all. It's just genetic material" from the spike protein that surrounds the virus. These vaccines use the spike protein portion of the virus to prompt the body's immune system to respond and create antibodies.

The spike protein, found covering the surface of the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus, allows the virus to enter the human cells. So, if a vaccinated person is exposed to the actual virus, the immune system would recognize these spike proteins and mount a defense against the whole virus.

Recap

COVID-19 vaccines do not contain a live virus. Therefore, it is not possible to become sick with COVID-19 or to shed the virus after vaccination.

Boosters and Waning Immunity

Because the vaccine is still new, we don’t know how long the immunity from it lasts. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine protection does wane over time. Therefore, the CDC recommends booster shots for everyone 16 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose at least six months ago.

While vaccines effectively prevent illness, especially severe illness and hospitalization, some vaccinated people will still get sick with breakthrough infections. However, these infections are usually less severe.

Kawsar Talaat, MD

We are seeing a  lot of breakthroughs, and so if you’re in a hot spot, you should be pretty careful about having large gatherings where people are unmasked.

— Kawsar Talaat, MD

"Certainly, those who are unvaccinated are more likely to be hospitalized and to get COVID in general," says Talaat. "But we are seeing a lot of breakthroughs, and so if you're in a hot spot, you should be pretty careful about having large gatherings where people are unmasked."

In addition to the possibility of breakthrough infections, it's important to remember that it takes two weeks for your body to build up immunity after vaccination. That's why people are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after their second dose. The same is true for added immunity from a booster.

People who are immunocompromised may not as effectively build immunity from vaccination. Therefore, the CDC recommends that they receive a booster sooner—after at least 28 days following their second dose.

Recap

Immunity wanes over time, so boosters are necessary. The CDC recommends boosters for everyone over 16 who completed their initial series more than six months ago. Since breakthroughs can happen in vaccinated people, if your community has substantial spread, it's probably best to avoid gatherings with unmasked people. This is especially true for kids too young to get a vaccine.

How to Safely Spend Time With Family

While children have been less susceptible to severe COVID-19, the fact is the virus can be serious and even fatal in children. So, it is still essential to practice regular hand hygiene, social distance, and wear a mask, even when spending time around others who are vaccinated.

To protect unvaccinated family members, including children under 5, the CDC recommends:

  • Get yourself and all eligible children and adults in the home vaccinated.
  • Continue to have everyone in your family wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission (some people may choose to mask regardless of transmission in their community).
  • Have all children over 2 wear a mask in all indoor public settings.

Talaat suggests that people who spend time with unvaccinated children should try to be mindful of wearing their masks. "If you haven't gotten a booster, get a booster if you're eligible. And then once you are together, think about doing rapid testing just to make sure that everybody is negative."

What This Means For You

With kids under 5 ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, families should continue to take precautions to limit their children's risk of infection. Even among vaccinated people, breakthrough infections are increasingly occurring. Therefore, it's vital to continue to take precautions, like wearing masks and testing before spending time with people.

You can protect your unvaccinated kids by getting vaccinated and boosted and ensuring that everyone in your household over 5 is fully vaccinated. In addition, make sure the people you spend time with are also vaccinated, and consider socializing in safer, well-ventilated, or outdoor spaces. If that's not possible, wear masks.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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