Health & Science

How Long Until Things Are Back To Normal? An Expert Answers All Your Vaccine Questions

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Now that the Covid-19 vaccine has been authorized for use in the U.S., and the first shots have been administered, parents can’t help but wonder: What should we expect for our families? How will the vaccine change things for schools and kids, and how soon will we be “back to normal”?

To find out more, ParentsTogether conducted a Q&A on Facebook with Covid-19 pandemic expert Andy Slavitt, who is host of the podcast In the Bubble, author of the book Preventable, and former federal healthcare administrator. Here are his responses to some of the top questions that parents are asking.

Is the Covid-19 vaccine safe for kids?

So far, the Covid-19 vaccine is only allowed to be administered to adults and teenagers aged 16 and older. For children under 16, while Slavitt says it’s unlikely that the vaccine is unsafe for kids, it simply hasn’t been tested yet to determine proper dosage and other key safety information. Slavitt surmises, “I suspect we will see other countries vaccinating younger kids before us and that will give us more confidence and along with our own data, should put us on the road to vaccinating younger kids too.”

The vaccine also hasn’t been tested on pregnant people yet. Dr. Anthony Fauci has noted that studies for vaccinating pregnant people and children will probably start in mid-January.

Who will or should be vaccinated first? 

Teachers should be considered very high priority to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, believes Slavitt, so that in-person school can become a safer option for all. The incoming Biden administration’s pandemic response plan includes making sure that educators get access to the vaccine.

But first, doses of the vaccine are being sent to each state based on population, and each state will decide separately on distribution schedules and priority groups. Highly affected populations such as healthcare workers are already starting to receive the shots across the country, and nursing homes and other long-term care residents are also at the top of the list of the priority groups recommended by the CDC. Next on the list would likely be those aged 65 and older, essential workers, and people who have underlying health conditions that make them at greater risk to death from Covid-19.

When will the general public be able to get the vaccine?

Slavitt estimates that the vaccine will be available to the general public (people who are eligible but do not fit into any of the high-priority groups) by May, June, or July of 2021. Dr. Fauci, however, has said that this milestone could be reached as early as April.

What will happen with kids who are under the age for which the vaccines have been tested? Are they safe if the adults around them are vaccinated?

Having adults vaccinated will definitely help kids, but in an indirect sense. Slavitt emphasizes, “Vaccines will bring down community prevalence and begin to make it safer for everybody,” including kids. Having teachers vaccinated, for example, will help make schools safer overall. However, he warns, “Masks are still important and distancing until we are down the road further with 60-70% of people taking the vaccine. So I would continue to show caution with the kids.”

Another reason for caution is long haul Covid-19, a condition affecting 10 percent or more of those infected. These people continue to have symptoms for months—even after “recovering” and testing negative for the virus. Because so little is still known about it, Slavitt says “It’s the number one thing I worry about with kids.” While long haul Covid-19 has the potential to impact anyone, kids could be faced with long-term consequences—factors we don’t even fully understand yet—for a long time to come.

Won’t kids still spread the virus?

Kids do probably spread it, says Slavitt, but it seems less likely that young kids spread it to adults—possibly because they have smaller lungs or are simply shorter in height and their respiratory droplets don’t spread as far. While young children under 10 are less likely to have a symptomatic or severe case of Covid-19 than teenagers and adults, more studies are still needed to understand how much young kids actually transmit the virus to others. 

“Kids would still be potentially contagious so beware if high risk adults are in the household,” warns Slavitt. However, the main point of the vaccine is that as more and more eligible adults get vaccinated, the community spread will decrease significantly, thus making in-person encounters such as school safer for families because there will be less of the virus around to spread.

When will things feel “back to normal”?

Recovery of societal norms will be a very gradual process, predicts Slavitt. He hopes that “schools resume earliest, mask wearing continues, most things [will be] ‘back’ this summer for people who are not high risk and in low prevalence areas.” There will be continued caution and risk during certain seasons—seasonal mask wearing could even become a norm. Many activities will resume, but there will probably be new procedures in place for situations like large crowds and arenas. “But most importantly,” Slavitt says, we’ll return to a culture of “hugs and kisses by mid-year I predict!” 

And as for what the 2021-2022 school year will look like? Slavitt foresees it being “98% in person. Lots of kids, lots of noise, lots of fun. Maybe some lingering issues and cautions, but not many. And hopefully lots of homework!!” So, overall fantastic, very hopeful news—aside, perhaps, from all that homework.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.