'Not a flippen' chance': We ask if it's safe for vaccinated and unvaccinated children to mix?

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"I'm not very happy with my kid hanging out with unvaccinated kids, especially if it's close contact, but I haven't decided if it's a deal breaker yet or not"
"I'm not very happy with my kid hanging out with unvaccinated kids, especially if it's close contact, but I haven't decided if it's a deal breaker yet or not"

Vaccination is a contentious topic right now, as South Africa calls on it's citizens to step up and get vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus which has killed four million people over the last 18 months.

But immunisation isn't a new issue among parents of young children, and the question of whether to allow vaccinated and unvaccinated children to play together has haunted families for decades. 

So I reached out on various parenting networks to find out how families feel about this topic, especially with Covid added to the mix, and I asked the experts to offer their professional take on the issue. 

While we may be asking this question now, more than one parent told me I was "brave" to bring this up, commenting that "a lot of us are afraid to ask sometimes, even though the best way to navigate these issues is for us to talk about it more". 

"You don't want to isolate these children"

Another mother shared that she understands that there are those that don't wish to vaccinate for a number of reasons, and if those reasons include that the child has severe allergies or compromised immunity or cannot get the vaccine because of medical issues, that's fine.

"However herd immunity in these situations won't always work as you can pass on viruses by incubating them and you won't even know you have it because the vaccination you've received helps your immune system fight it better than others. You are therefore a carrier and can potentially pass on a deadly illness to a child or adult," she believes. 

She says it's a difficult situation. "You don't want to isolate these children or adults because we all need friends and love. It's a risk that needs to be calculated and communicated thoroughly. As long as all parties understand that there is someone who is especially high risk for these things they just need to be extra cautious about kids being sick and around each other," she says. 

"I wouldn't mind being around unvaccinated families as long as I know what kind of situation it is; that way I can protect them if my little one or I am sick. We do this anyway when our kids have colds and flus, and I don't think children who are unvaccinated should be treated differently," she says. 

"Not comfortable socialising with un-vaccinated people"

A pregnant mom told us that she would not be comfortable socialising with unvaccinated people because she is currently high-risk due to being pregnant.  

"My understanding is there is a greater chance of transmission from an unvaccinated person. In cases where I have little choice, I would stick to outside socialising where transmission risk is low, but it is so hard with little ones because people pick them up and hug them." 

Currently, she says her family only socialises with friends who are all vaccinated. 

"I am so torn"

A Cape Town mom told us that she is currently having this exact discussion at home and her gut instinct is to avoid interaction with those that potentially pose a threat to her family.

"Our dilemma comes where my sibling is refusing the Covid-19 vaccine. It's eating me up inside. I'm having a hard time with those around me who are choosing not to vaccinate. I am so torn," she says. 

"Stay away from unvaccinated kids"

"I might ask if they're vaccinated, as we get to a more social age, and if the parents give me any reason to have to ask, and then no, I will opt to stay away from unvaccinated kids wherever possible," another mom shared.

She says she is also not comfortable mixing her family with others who are not vaccinated against Covid-19. 

"Unless there's a clear medical reason not to get vaccinated - I don't know what that might be, but maybe it's possible - I'd opt not to spend a long time with unvaccinated folks," she says.

"The most absurd thing" 

"I once met a mom of unvaccinated children and she said the most absurd thing," another mother told us, "she says that she hopes lots of people get the Covid-19 vaccination so her kids are more protected, but she's not happy to get it herself." 

This mom says it's tough, navigating relationships, especially if it's with family or good friends. 

"I have been doing some thinking about this myself, and I'm not very happy with my kid hanging out with unvaccinated kids, especially if it's close contact, but I haven't decided if it's a deal breaker yet or not," she says.

One mom of two boys answered our questions in one line: "Not a flippen' chance, my kids will not be playing with unvaccinated children."

It seems that the consensus among this group of parents is that it's safest to mix with vaccinated families, and this is a sentiment that doctors echo. 

It's about chains of transmission 

Elizabeth Arangies, a qualified epidemiologist based in North Carolina in the US, shares with us that the main thing one needs to understand about vaccines is that although they play a vital role in herd immunity, no vaccine is 100% effective.

The South African mom of two, who holds a Masters in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explains how, in effect, should your vaccinated child be exposed to an unvaccinated child with for example measles, your child potentially still has a 3% chance of contracting the disease since the MMR is about 97% effective.

"However, worrying about whether your child is playing with an unvaccinated kid is not really necessary, with a caveat," she says.

"You need to worry about who the child may be exposing to the disease back home, should your vaccinated child come home carrying a potentially dangerous illness - even if you child is asymptomatic," she says.

"With the childhood diseases that we worry about exposing small babies to, the disease is very dangerous with their under-developed immune system. Then there are the people with diseases that result in immunosuppression (such as HIV) or whose medications suppress the immune system, such as with rheumatoid arthritis, or people who have undergone organ transplantation."

"So in short it's about chains of transmission in your home or family, which in this time of Covid-19 is vitally important to consider," she stresses.  

The safest approach 

"Sticking with vaccinated friends and families may be the safest approach for a lot of families," Cape Town GP Dr Carol Bosch agrees.  

She explains that this is because we have to balance risk with benefit, as we all have done over the past 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are not solitary creatures and we have to socialise in a way that is safest for our families," Dr Bosch explains, adding that nothing is without risk, but that we have the opportunity to mitigate some risks, such as with a vaccine, and by choosing the risk profile of those we socialise with. 

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