When the federal government announced this week that it was preparing to ease quarantine rules for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers, Dan Minkin and Caleigh McInnes started to think seriously about attending a family wedding in Israel this fall.
There is just one small hitch in the Toronto couple’s travel plans: His name is Eli and he’s eight months old.
Mr. Minkin, a public servant, and Ms. McInnes, a city planner, don’t know what they will be allowed to do – or what they will feel comfortable doing – when they are fully vaccinated and their son is not.
But they are well aware that two shots won’t grant them entry to a postvaccination paradise the way it might for recipients who don’t have a child in daycare, as they will in the fall. “We knew getting our shots would not be the end of the pandemic for us,” Mr. Minkin said.
COVID-19 vaccines are not expected to be available to children under the age of 12 until mid-autumn at the earliest. In the meantime, a growing number of Canadian moms and dads who’ve received a second dose or booked an appointment for one are staring down months in pandemic purgatory, uncertain of what will be legally and socially acceptable for partly vaccinated families.
Travel is top of mind for many, but so are the details of everyday life. Are indoor, unmasked playdates okay if all the parents and caregivers are vaccinated? What about birthday parties, team sports, swimming lessons and other rituals of childhood where it won’t be so easy to discover if a participant has unvaccinated people in the family tree?
Nisha Thampi, a pediatric infectious disease physician at CHEO, a children’s hospital in Ottawa, said there are no easy answers during this “messy” time. She stressed that unvaccinated children can still catch and transmit COVID-19, meaning families can’t drop their guard right away, especially if adults have received only a single dose.
“This requires slow, deliberate thinking,” Dr. Thampi said. “What [some] are looking for is a snap back to the intuitive, fly-by-the-moment, spontaneous type of engagements that we used to have as a society. I’m just not sure we’re there yet.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) hasn’t issued any clear guidance on what Canadians can do after they are fully vaccinated, which is defined as two weeks past a second dose.
Srinivas Murthy, a critical care and infectious disease physician at BC Children’s Hospital, said much will depend on the amount of COVID-19 circulating in the community. When infection rates are low and falling, as they are in most of Canada right now, vaccinated parents should feel comfortable letting their children take part in indoor playdates and small group activities and sports, even indoors, he said.
“Regardless of vaccination status,” Dr. Murthy said, “it’s more important for me to know how much disease is out there.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved for people aged 12 to 17 in Canada. Trials in children are under way, and Pfizer expects to file for emergency use authorization in the United States, “sometime in the September-October timeframe for children 5 to 11, and soon after for 6 months to 5,” Christina Antoniou, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Canada, said by e-mail.
The timing is expected to be similar in Canada, given Health Canada approved the vaccine just before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did.
Moderna, Canada’s other major vaccine supplier, recently submitted data on its COVID-19 vaccine in younger teens to Health Canada, said Shehzad Iqbal, Moderna’s Canadian medical director. A trial in younger children in the United States is expected to expand to Canada soon.
Dr. Iqbal said Moderna hopes to apply to Health Canada in December for approval of its vaccine for kids.
One of the rare silver linings of the pandemic is that vanishingly few children and teens have developed severe cases of COVID-19. Of more than 263,000 known infections in Canadians younger than 20, 158 have been admitted to an intensive-care unit and 11 have died as of Friday, according to PHAC.
Of greater concern is children’s role in spreading the virus, and what that might look like as the vaccination campaign expands. Results have been mixed in the few countries ahead of Canada in their rollouts.
In Israel, aggressively vaccinating adults with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart protected the unvaccinated, including children and adolescents. For every 20 percentage-point increase in vaccination among adults in a community, the share of positive tests among the unvaccinated fell by half, according to a study of 177 Israeli communities published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine.
But in Britain, where the fast-spreading Delta variant now accounts for more than 90 per cent of new infections, vaccinating older adults hasn’t had as much impact on the young and unvaccinated. The latest British figures show cases of Delta, the variant first identified in India, heavily concentrated among those 10 to 29, the age group least likely to be vaccinated, other than very young children.
Despite 78 per cent of Britons having received at least one dose and 55 per cent having received two, Britain reported 8,125 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, its highest one-day tally since late February.
For now, Canadians can’t travel to Israel, the U.K. or anywhere else without quarantining upon their return for 14 days, three of them in a government-approved quarantine hotel if they are returning by air.
This week, the federal government announced that in early July, fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents would be allowed to travel abroad without having to quarantine in a hotel or at home so long as they have received the negative results of a COVID-19 test administered when they re-enter the country by land or air.
It wasn’t clear what the announcement meant for parents who hope to travel with young children, but a spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu hinted a compromise could be ahead.
Thierry Bélair pointed out that unaccompanied minors are already allowed to bypass the government’s quarantine hotels and isolate at home. “So what’s reasonable to expect is that fully vaccinated parents could probably, with unvaccinated children, go do the quarantine at home,” he told The Globe and Mail. “But that’s still being discussed with public health.”
He said the government would unveil details and a start date as soon as possible.
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