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Is it safe for families to travel now?

Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP

Answer

After more than a year of "pandemic-life," we are all eager to return to more of our normal activities. For many families, this includes traveling—especially around the holidays. The good news is that with more people getting COVID-19 vaccines, travel continues to get safer. But for families with young children who aren't able to get COVID-19 vaccines yet, it's still complicated. Here's why.

Vaccines are key

Federal Experts who warned about the dangers of travel earlier in the pandemic now say fully vaccinated people can safely travel, with some common-sense precautions. However, they still advise against any nonessential travel for unvaccinated individuals. And, the problem is, vaccines aren't yet available for children under age 5. This means that while parents who are vaccinated are protected, traveling now may still put their younger children at risk—especially with highly contagious variant spreading.

While most cases of COVID-19 infections in children are mild, some do become severely ill. Thousands of children have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and hundreds have died. In addition, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a condition that has been unique to children during this pandemic and can be quite serious.

If you decide to travel

Not all vacations or trips carry the same risk. For example, traveling by car to a vacation rental home is much safer than flying to a busy hotel to spend the week at a crowded beach. The key is to think about number of close contacts you'll likely have during the course of your travel plans. The more contacts, the higher the risk.

There are steps you can take to lower travel risks:

  • Have everyone in your family who is eligible (5 years and older) and those whom you plan on visiting, get their COVD-19 vaccine. Many COVID infections come from household contacts. By ensuring everyone is vaccinated, you'll limit the number of suspectable contacts.

  • Everyone ages 18 years and older can get a booster shot using any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. People who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can get a booster at least 6 months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series. People who received Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine should get a booster at least 2 months after your shot.

  • Check the COVID-19 community spread rates of the locale you intend to visit. Locations with high rates of community spread means higher risk of someone in your family being exposed to COVID-19. If the intended destination has a high rate of spread, be extra cautious when in public. Keep in mind that outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones.

  • Make sure everyone in the family, even those who are fully vaccinated, wears masks on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation. Keep them on at the airport or station, too.

  • Try to travel by car if possible. While the airline industry has taken amazing steps in helping to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission (HEPA air filters, air exchange, electrostatic spraying), traveling by car will limit your contact with the public. In addition, the road trip experience can be a great way for your family to see new places. During any rest stops, it's a good idea to wear a mask and wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Also, consider packing your own food and snacks.

  • If you must fly: Try to look for direct flights that will limit the need to change planes and walk through busy airports. The shorter the flight the better, since longer flights will increase your chance of infection. Keep masks on for the entire flight and consider opting out of meals. Don't forget to bring disinfectant wipes to sanitize all the high-touch areas.

  • Pack extra masks and hand sanitizers. Along with toothbrushes, diapers, and the portable crib, be sure to tote along those important pandemic essentials. Pack at least two masks per child in case one is lost or being washed after use. When packing hand sanitizer, include a small dispenser that can be stored in a purse or backpack as well as a larger container for refills. Ensure that the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol for effectiveness.

Remember

COVID-19 has affected everyone, and the pandemic has been stressful for families. The urge to travel is understandable. Just remember that the pandemic is not over yet, and it's important to consider the risks and minimize them.

More Information

Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP

​Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP, is a general pediatrician at Phoenix Children's Hospital with a unique practice. His office is a 40-foot mobile medical unit that travels to various homeless shelters in Phoenix providing free medical care to families. He and his lovely wife, Mary (a pediatric emergency doctor), have three wonderful (most of the time) children and two dachshunds.

Last Updated
11/24/2021
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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