Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

Vaccines and Grandkids

Returning to normalcy: a vaccine Q&A with family doctor Roland Grad

As we approach a new stage in the COVID-19 pandemic, with more and more North Americans vaccinated, many people find themselves with questions about what we can and can’t do safely. For snowbirds, these questions may be different if you have been in the U.S. or in Canada.

Whether you are fully vaccinated, or have only received one dose of a two-dose series, you may be wondering if you can visit with others who have not been vaccinated. Grandparents may wonder if it’s safe to visit with grandkids, especially because the COVID-19 vaccines haven’t yet been approved for kids under 12.

To learn more about the return to normalcy after vaccination, we spoke with Dr. Roland Grad, MD, a family doctor with 34 years of practice experience and associate professor of medicine at McGill University.

Grad understands the importance of grandparents visiting with grandkids, as well as the importance of staying safe.

“As a grandparent, your opportunity to be with your grandkids is limited,” Grad says.

While zero-risk situations simply don’t exist, the doctor says, the vaccines make it much safer to return to normal activities. For those who have only received their first shot, extra safety measures can ensure a low-risk visit.

Can fully vaccinated grandparents visit with unvaccinated grandkids?

On May 13, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its Interim Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. The webpage states that fully vaccinated people can “resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing.”

In March 2021, at a CDC briefing, officials specifically stated that fully vaccinated grandparents can visit normally with unvaccinated grandchildren, assuming that none of the children is at high risk. They suggest that older adults who are vaccinated limit visits to one unvaccinated household at a time.

This means that you may choose not to visit all of your grandkids at once, if those grandkids live in separate households.

The CDC is a cautious group, Grad says. “They’re not going to say that, if they’re not sure about it,” he continues. “Their confidence comes from what they’re observing … and they’re not seeing hospitalizations among people who have been fully vaccinated.”

What about half-vaccinated grandparents?

People who have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine are advised to behave as if they haven’t been vaccinated. However, the reality is that one dose gives a person some protection against the worst risks of COVID-19.

The CDC found that people over age 65 who received one dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) were 64 per cent less likely to be hospitalized than people who had not been vaccinated. Those who received two doses were 94 per cent less likely to require hospitalization.

Dr. Grad says that it’s best to play it safe if you’re only half-vaccinated. “I would have a hard time going against [standard] guidance here.” That being said, the doctor says, it’s an individual decision which has to do with how much risk a person is willing to tolerate.

For many people, one dose of the vaccine is enough to feel safe to engage in some form of in-person connection, when public health restrictions allow for it. Adding in some extra protection, such as wearing masks or holding the gathering outdoors, can add extra peace of mind.

One option is to wait until two weeks after your second shot before returning to visits, the doctor says. “But if you don’t want to wait, stay outdoors, wear a mask and try not to let the kids slobber all over you,” he explains.

Tips for visiting more safely

  • Hold visits outdoors. The virus that causes COVID-19 is much less contagious outside, because of better ventilation.
  • Maintain social distance. Sitting two metres apart from those you are visiting can provide an extra layer of protection.
  • Wear masks. Wearing a protective face covering and asking those you are visiting to wear one too, can reduce the chance of getting COVID-19.
  • Open the windows. If you’re holding a gathering indoors, consider opening the windows. The added ventilation may reduce the risk of catching the virus.
  • Keep households separate. The more households you interact with, the higher your risk. Limit visits to a single household at a time, to reduce risk.

Should grandparents worry about infecting their grandkids?

For most of the pandemic, the conversation has centred around protecting older adults. Now that older adults have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, some people may be wondering if we should worry about the younger people who have not been vaccinated.

According to Dr. Grad, grandparents generally do not have to worry about infecting their grandkids, because children are at less risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

“I don’t think grandparents should be afraid of giving something to a grandchild, unless that grandchild has special health problems,” he says.

Will children receive the vaccine?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved for children 12 and up, but trials for younger kids are still ongoing.

Dr. Caroline Quach, MD, is the chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI), a Canadian entity that makes recommendations for the use of vaccines in Canada. Quach has advised that vaccines for kids aren’t expected until 2022.

When will Canadians be fully vaccinated?

The vaccine rollout has been slower than desired here in Canada, especially compared to the United States. While many Americans have received their second doses, Canadians are lagging behind, with most people having only received their first dose.

Most Canadians can expect to be eligible to receive their second dose by the end of the summer, with higher-risk Canadians becoming eligible sooner.

Until then, those who are only half-vaccinated can make reasoned decisions and combine other strategies to mitigate their risk, while socializing safely.

Summary

If you are fully vaccinated, rest assured that it’s safe for you to visit with your unvaccinated grandkids. If you have only received one dose of a two-dose series, however, you’re advised to behave as if you’re unimmunized. You can use other strategies, such as masking, social distancing and outdoor visits, to reduce your risk while waiting for your next shot.

The decision to return to regular visits is yours. But once you are vaccinated, there’s really no reason to avoid social activities. The vaccines work very well, Grad says, and the probability of a fully vaccinated person getting a severe case is low.

“The risk to fully vaccinated people is so low that most people would say hey, the benefits of seeing my grandchildren and hugging them again far outweighs a small chance of getting sick.”

Note: This interview took place on June 7, 2021. As research, knowledge and public health guidelines are constantly changing, it’s important to stay up to date with the latest information.

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