Back to School and the Delta Variant: What Infectious Disease Experts Want Parents to Know

Connecticut Children’s has been working closely with other national and global health leaders to stay on top of the latest coronavirus data.
Connecticut Children’s has been working closely with other national and global health leaders to stay on top of the latest coronavirus data.

Just as families are preparing to send kids back to school, the highly-contagious Delta variant is driving COVID-19 cases back up. Parents everywhere are wondering what these soaring numbers mean for their vaccinated and unvaccinated kids and how to keep them safe. To get a handle on what families need to know, we connected with the pediatric infectious disease experts at Connecticut Children’s.

Since the start of the pandemic, Connecticut Children’s has been working closely with other national and global health leaders to stay on top of the latest coronavirus data, and what it means for children, teens and young adults. Read on to find out what these dedicated doctors want you to know to be safe and informed about COVID-19 now.

The Delta variant is extremely contagious—especially among the unvaccinated.

Thought to be 50% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, it’s known that the Delta variant spreads very easily among unvaccinated people. While it’s unclear whether it leads to more serious illness than previous strains, it’s possible for kids to get really sick from COVID-19 and to develop a serious inflammatory illness known as MIS-C.

With school starting, vaccines are the BEST protection for eligible children and their families.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect your child from coronavirus, including the highly contagious Delta variant,” says Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief Juan C. Salazar, MD, MPH, FAAP. “It’s also the best way to set them up for full participation in school and favorite activities, since quarantine requirements are often different for kids who are fully vaccinated.”

Currently, Pfizer’s vaccine is the only option for kids ages 12 to 17, and it’s proven to greatly reduce the chance of catching the Delta variant. The vaccine, which requires two shots, is also highly effective at preventing serious illness should your child get infected.

And if any adults in your household still aren’t vaccinated, scheduling their shots is another critical way to protect your loved ones and community.

It takes at least five weeks from your child’s first shot to reach their strongest protection from COVID-19.

“Your child will have to wait three weeks between doses, and another two weeks after that for their body to build up full immunity,” says Connecticut Children’s infectious disease expert John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH.

So it’s important to schedule their vaccine ASAP. And, if your child has still only received the first Pfizer injection, make sure to schedule the second one to ensure maximum vaccine coverage.

“That second shot is very important, especially against the Delta variant,” says Dr. Schreiber.

Kids can safely get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

Some experts are saying that a COVID-19 vaccine may be authorized for ages 5 to 11 as early as September or October. Of course, that’s right around the time most children get their annual flu shot, which has some parents wondering if it’s okay to have both done at the same time. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently determined that it’s safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other routine vaccines, including the flu shot.

“In general, both vaccines should offer the same protection whether they’re given alone or together,” says Dr. Salazar. “Your child could get their flu shot around the same time as either COVID-19 dose.”

Kids who aren’t yet vaccinated can take important steps to stay safe.

First on the list? A high-quality mask. “Until your child is old enough to get their COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask is their best protection against the Delta variant,” says Dr. Schreiber.

Beyond that, says Dr. Schreiber, “Keep up the healthy habits that they—and you—probably know by heart by now.” That includes steering clear of crowds, masking up in indoor public spaces, and keeping distance from others—especially indoors. And as always, make sure everyone in your family washes their hands properly (remember, that’s two rounds of “Happy Birthday”), and stays home from school and other activities if they start to feel sick.

“And watch for news of a vaccine for your child’s age group,” adds Dr. Schreiber, “which could be coming as soon as this fall.”

The Delta variant will likely impact school mask requirements this fall.

There’s an executive mask mandate for Connecticut schools in effect until September 30, which is now being reviewed by the state's Department of Public Health and Department of Education. In the weeks ahead, as leaders decide how schools can safely resume classes in the fall, they will be watching community infection rates and determining if measures like masking and social distancing need to continue in classrooms to help protect students.

Stay up-to-date this school year.

Check out Connecticut Children's Back to School Kit for answers to your biggest back-to-school questions–from COVID-19 news to helping kids who are stressed about in-person classes.

Connecticut Children’s is ranked one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Women’s Choice, and is a Magnet® designated hospital. With more than 30 pediatric specialties, it’s the only health system in the state 100% dedicated to children. If you’re in need of a pediatric specialist, schedule an in-person appointment or a video visit now.

Photo courtesy of Connecticut Children's

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