Ask SciMoms: When can my kids hug their grandparents after COVID vaccination?

The CDC recently released guidelines about what is safe after COVID vaccination. With a growing proportion of fully vaccinated older Americans, the most burning question the SciMoms and many of our readers have is: when can our kids hug their grandparents after COVID vaccinations? 

The new guidelines do not specifically mention kids, but most kids are unvaccinated people and will be for the immediate future. In the US, there is no vaccine currently authorized for anyone under the age of 16. We do not expect COVID vaccines to be available for young children until early 2022. This means that once my husband and I are vaccinated, my household will still be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. This will be true for any household with kids until kids are vaccinated.

With that in mind, I consulted these helpful posts and graphics from Your Local Epidemiologist, Dear Pandemic, and Unbiased Science Podcast to determine who we as a family can safely interact with without masks and distancing (and who we can hug). (Please see our previous COVID FAQs on masks and slowing the spread of COVID.) 

Can we hug grandparents after COVID vaccination?

In our family, both sets of grandparents have been fully vaccinated. (We are so grateful that they are healthy and fully vaccinated!) So the people in my household (both the vaccinated and unvaccinated ones) can interact with these fully vaccinated households inside without masks. We can hug with very little risk of disease transmission!

We can do this because none of us are at high risk of severe outcomes (top middle house of the graphic below). This is a little confusing because the risk of transmission to unvaccinated individuals is roughly the same whether they are in a high-risk category. However, if any of us were at high risk for severe COVID-19 (top right house of the graphic below), the recommendation is different (see: Who is at high risk for COVID?). We would still need to take precautions because the potential severity of harm is much higher. Risk tolerance in this situation is lower because the consequences are potentially more severe. For more on the relationship between probability and severity of harm, read part 2 of our series on risk!

If one of my kids was high risk, I would consider these two options, which are the same as they have been throughout the pandemic.

  1. Implement a full, strict 2-week quarantine before merging our bubbles and interacting without distancing measures. This is what we did this summer before a prolonged visit to my parents’ house.
  2. Continue to interact with masking and distancing, preferably outdoors. 

Can we hug cousins after COVID vaccination?

In contrast, we should not relax distancing measures with a household of aunts, uncles, and young cousins, even if the adults are vaccinated. As long as the kids remain unvaccinated, getting together with them means having unvaccinated people (the kids) together. Thus, the same precautions that have been necessary for the past year remain necessary. 

Vaccinated grandparents can interact without prevention methods with each household of cousins separately. But not together at the same time. This avoids two unvaccinated households interacting together (bottom left house above and bottom scenario of the graphic below). This kind of large gathering of multiple households with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people (including kids!) still requires appropriate precautions until after COVID vaccination or community spread is reduced.

In my family, this means that we are having a Passover seder at the end of the month with my parents in person. However, we have postponed my daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah. We are hopeful that, by fall, a combination of vaccines, public health measures, and human behavior will allow us to safely hold a big family celebration and dance a big, sweaty, non-socially distanced horah.

A strange time ahead

The world is going to be confusing for a while as the vaccine rollout continues. I found working through these situations to be helpful and to help me be a little more patient as the vaccine rollout ramps up and pediatric trials continue. The CDC guidelines are quite risk-averse at this point because the consequences of being wrong could undermine our progress against the pandemic. I expect these guidelines to evolve as we learn more about real-world vaccine effectiveness.