COVID-19: How to protect children who are too young for a vaccine

In east Toronto, Erica O’Keefe is selective about where she brings her 14-month-old son, who is too young for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I just avoid the bigger stores, like the dollar store, the grocery store, that I know are more full,” she said.

Her son Sebastien is also too young to wear a face mask, so O’Keefe said she spends as much time as possible outdoors at the park.

“I’ll avoid the playground a little bit more if it’s busy,” she said.

Finally, O’Keefe is doing her part to protect her son and three-year-old daughter, by getting vaccinated.

Read more: Children, adults 30 and younger driving COVID-19 surge in parts of northern Ontario

“Both my husband and I are just getting our second doses of the vaccine today and a lot of the people that we are close to in our life also are getting vaccinated so we are trying to protect the little ones that way,” she added.

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As vaccination rates among those 12 and older increase in Ontario and the COVID-19 case count decreases, restaurants and shops are bustling once again, but there is concern among parents for children who are under the age of 12 and not eligible for a vaccine.

“We have to remember that children and teenagers do not get seriously ill from COVID and they never have and this is equally true for the variants,” explained Dr. Martha Fulford, infectious disease specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

“I’m less worried about whether or not children are vaccinated and I’m also basing that on what we’ve seen out of Israel and the United States because with the adults vaccinated the numbers drop significantly, including in our young people,” she noted.

Read more: Over one-third of COVID-19 cases among Ontario children are asymptomatic: University of Guelph study

This week, Israel lifted one of its final restrictions, as new COVID-19 cases continue to drop.

Face masks are no longer required, even for school children, despite not being eligible, like elsewhere, to be vaccinated.

“Indoors we’re still asking people to follow normal precautions … ensuring people are courteous of physical distancing,” Fulford said.

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Read more: COVID-19: Study shows many children and adolescents may have been carrying disease

Similarly, Dr. Allan Grill, chief of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, noted it is safest for Ontarians to spend their time outside as much as possible.

“Safer in terms of transmission of the virus and case counts in Ontario are really low which means everybody has less of a chance of getting COVID-19,” he said.

Grill added that summer camps are taking precautions to ensure children are masked whenever necessary and in cohorts, to keep them protected.

“We’re finally going to give kids who have been suffering from social isolation, they haven’t been with friends, they’ve been out of school, we’re finally going to give them an opportunity to be kids and interact with other people which is so important for mental health,” he said.

Read more: ‘Kids are not all right’: Mental health among Ontario children deteriorating during COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be available in the fall for children under the age of 12.

“As long as people continue to get vaccinated and continue to follow public guidelines I think it’s going to be a safe summer spending time outdoors,” said Grill.

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