Vaccinated parents + unvaccinated kids: How to navigate summer activities

As millions of Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and embark on excitedly making summer plans, parents are left wondering, "What about us?" COVID restrictions are being altered and lifted on a weekly basis, but with children unable to receive the vaccine, many parents are scratching their heads about what's safe and what's not until kids are vaccinated.

Pfizer will likely have a vaccine authorized for emergency use for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 any day now, and anyone over the age of 16 can currently receive the Pfizer vaccine.

But if you have young children who may be several months away from meeting vaccine eligibility requirements, you're likely playing it safe this summer—not unlike last summer.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children make up only about 13.4 percent of patients and 0.19 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Studies have also shown that the risk to kids age 5 to 17 is far less than those older, and babies have an even smaller risk.

Much like last summer, risk mitigation will be the name of the game for parents when deciding what to do.

Who can my kids hang out with?

According to public health experts, we still need to trust the science behind virus precautions. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and contributor to the TODAY show on NBC, offers a few tips on how to (carefully) live life this summer.

"The top concern I hear from parents these days is how can we live and still keep their kids safe," Borba told NBC News. "So I tell them, anytime you go on a trip, you take the safe route. Anytime you go to a store, you make sure it's not crowded. You want to go see grandma? Make sure she's vaccinated first."

Though we are seeing hospitalizations and new case numbers decline compared to early 2021, we're still in a pandemic. Unfortunately, there is no risk-free activity or gathering. On the bright side, however, data shows that vaccinated adults are extremely well-protected from contracting and transmitting the virus, and children younger than 12 are less likely to become seriously ill or transmit the virus if infected.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows for a small group of fully vaccinated people to gather, and says those groups can include unvaccinated individuals from one other household—as long as none of the unvaccinated individuals are at serious risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Remember, though, the unvaccinated people can only come from a single household if the gathering includes fully vaccinated people from multiple households.

Maskless indoor gatherings with people outside of their household are still a no-go for unvaccinated kids, however. There is still a risk unvaccinated kids can transmit COVID-19 to one another and others.

The mental health of your children matters, too. Malia Jones, a community health scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told The New York Times it's important to find safe ways to combat the loneliness, anxiety and depression children are feeling.

"You can definitely have a play date with other families," Dr. Jones said. "You just need to keep taking the same precautions." Hold gatherings outside when you can, encourage physical distancing and, ideally, wear masks. "We're not at a point yet where we can have indoor play dates with no masks on among unvaccinated kids," she said.

What about summer travel plans?

We're rapidly approaching summer break and school-free days. Many families are, of course, planning to travel this summer for a much-needed family vacation. Can vaccinated adults travel without their children? The CDC says it's safe to do so in the U.S. Vaccinated adults don't need to be tested for COVID-19 first, and they also don't have to self-isolate when they return.

Traveling with unvaccinated kids, however, is a bit different. You'll just need to take precautions and follow guidelines for each state you're traveling to. And you can always consult with your child's pediatrician before you go to see if it might be best for them to take a COVID-19 test prior to the trip and also upon returning home.

If traveling by air, just have your children who are over the age of two wear a mask and follow all safety protocols while onboard and inside the airport. Traveling by car is safer as you'll come into contact with fewer people, and outdoor activities like hiking and camping come with a much lower risk than most other summer activities. If you're heading to the beach, be mindful of keeping distance between others.

"If you're more than 6-feet from somebody outdoors, I don't think your mask is going to make that much of a marginal difference at that point, because the risk is already so low," Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine physician at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told The Seattle Times.

The beach also has more of an opportunity to spread out and distance yourself from groups of people not from your household compared to a public pool.

Can we dine inside restaurants this summer?

If you're fully vaccinated, you sure can! The CDC has said fully vaccinated people can resume activities like eating indoors at restaurants, and the risk of bringing the virus home is unlikely. However, taking your kids along to eat indoors is still not as safe as eating outside on a restaurant's deck or patio.

You can't eat with a mask on, and with many restaurant restrictions being eased or lifted altogether, it's difficult to socially distance while inside. Restaurants have historically been one of the highest-risk settings for virus spread within communities. Eating outdoors is much safer, according to Dr. Jones.

When will kids be eligible to receive the vaccine?

Last week, a federal government official told CNN the FDA is currently reviewing data submitted by Pfizer to support its extended use. At the end of March, a clinical trial involving 2,260 12 to 15-year-olds showed the vaccine was 100% effective and well-tolerated in participants. Pfizer plans to apply to the FDA for emergency use of the vaccine within that age bracket any day now.

The Pfizer COVID vaccine could be available and ready for administration to children as early as September. The pharmaceutical company announced during its quarterly earnings call this week that they expect to apply to the Food and Drug Administration this fall for emergency authorization to administer their COVID vaccine to children between the ages of two and 11. While these developments won't occur before the end of the summer, it gives parents a lot to look forward to ahead of the 2021-22 school year.

When it comes to planning out your summer, it's OK to be excited for yourself and other adults in your family that are fully vaccinated while feeling anxious or disappointed that your children aren't. Making decisions and weighing risks during a global pandemic is extremely difficult and stressful.

Just remember–the fact that we're even discussing the issue of unvaccinated kids vs. vaccinated parents means we've made so much progress since last summer. Enjoy your time with your family, stay cautious, follow safety precautions, and do what feels right to you.