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 are not eligible to receive them at this time.
  • Vaccine recipients can still become infected between doses, and may still be able to spread the virus asymptomatically after both doses.
  • Hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask usage remain important.

With distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines well underway, many of our most vulnerable people finally have a strong defense against infection. While this includes older people, people with preexisting conditions, and those who are immunocompromised, it does not include children, for whom the vaccines are not yet approved.

This raises possible safety concerns for those whose children have not been able to see their grandparents or other family members for months, and who may be wondering what protocols to follow around family members who have now been vaccinated.

Vaccination may mean that the recipient builds an immunity to the virus, but it does not mean that the virus ceases to exist on or around that person. It can still be transferred via surfaces, and vaccine recipients may possibly become asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

While children have been less susceptible to severe COVID-19, it is still important to practice regular hand hygiene, social distance, and wear a mask, even when spending time around others who have been vaccinated.

Dr. Amina Ahmed, MD

Until we know about the durability of immunity from the vaccine and the role of asymptomatic infection in immune persons, we need to continue to mask.

— Dr. Amina Ahmed, MD

Vaccination in this early phase is about protecting the vulnerable from experiencing severe symptoms. It isn’t yet about lowering our guard and declaring the whole pandemic over.

You Can’t Get COVID-19 From the Vaccine

Dr. Amina Ahmed, professor of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital, explains that the current front-runner vaccines being rolled out, from Pfizer and Moderna, 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 as a result of the injection.

Ahmed explains that with the current vaccines, “There's no live virus at all. It's just genetic material.”

Front-running COVID-19 vaccines use the spike protein portion of the virus. The body’s immune system responds and creates antibodies.

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

Vaccinated Individuals Might Still Carry the Virus

Because the vaccine is still in the early rollout phases, we don’t yet know how long the immunity lasts, or if vaccinated people can become asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

Dr. Sarah Browne, MD

Many people do not realize that they may need to wear masks after vaccination. While they may be protected against disease, they may still carry virus in their nose.

— Dr. Sarah Browne, MD

Dr. Sarah Browne, infectious diseases specialist and senior director of vaccine development at Altimmune, explains that after an injected vaccine, the vaccinated person may be protected, but those around them are not necessarily safe from illness.

She says, “Many people do not realize that they may need to wear masks after vaccination. While they may be protected against disease, they may still carry virus in their nose.”

How Can You Carry the Virus After Vaccination?

Imagine for a moment that a vaccinated person touches a contaminated surface, such as a door handle, and then scratches their nose. The virus may transfer to their nasal mucosa. They could then carry the virus particles on their hands and in their nose.

Because they are vaccinated against the virus, their body can mount an immune response and prevent them from becoming ill with symptoms. However, for an unknown period, they may still carry that virus in their nose or on their hands. They then could infect others, even though they, themselves, are not unwell.

With this in mind, regular hand washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing should continue.

Ahmed encourages the public to continue to follow these hygiene practices. “Until we know about the durability of immunity from the vaccine and the role of asymptomatic infection in immune persons, we need to continue to mask," says says.

The Vaccine Won't Work for Everyone

The Pfizer vaccine is claimed to be 95% effective after two doses when given 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine, meanwhile, is said to be 94% effective after two doses given 28 days apart. After the first dose, however, effectiveness is said to be 52% and 80%, respectively.

This means that if someone has had one vaccination, they are not yet fully covered. Even if they have two vaccine doses, a small portion of people may still contract coronavirus.

What This Means For You

Even if a vulnerable loved one has had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is recommended that you protect them, yourself, and your kids by washing or sanitizing hands, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distance where possible.

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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