Summer in Minnesota is always my favorite time of year. I look forward to lazy days spent in the sunshine on a lake. This year was even a little sweeter because the beginning of the summer coincided with a drop in the Covid-19 cases. For many people, the masks came off and people gathered again with friends and family. Just for a moment, it felt like we could put Covid-19 behind us.
However, Covid-19 is not gone. A new variant has emerged, the Delta Variant. This variant is concerning because it spreads more easily than previous strains, it is about twice as contagious. Scientists are still investigating if the Delta variant causes more severe infections. Cases are increasing quickly again across the United States and most of these cases are occurring in unvaccinated individuals. Pediatricians across the country are especially concerned about this variant because a large portion of our patients are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Fortunately, this year is different than last year. We have a whole years’ worth of scientific knowledge about Covid-19 and more tools available to treat and prevent infections. These are some proven tools to combat Covid-19:
Vaccination is our best defense against Covid-19. At the time I am writing this, the vaccine is approved for anyone older than 12 years. To date, millions of people in the United States have gotten the vaccine and no long-term side effects have been detected. In the past, with other vaccines, all major side effects have occurred within 6 weeks of getting the vaccine. The Covid-19 vaccine has been in use much longer than that now. There have been rare serious side effects with the Covid vaccine, but your risk of having a vaccine reaction remains much smaller than the risk of having a severe reaction to the virus. According to the CDC, the Covid-19 vaccine has been the most intensely monitored vaccine to date for side effects.
Getting vaccinated protects not only yourself but protects those around you. People who are vaccinated are much less likely to be hospitalized or suffer severe illness, they also are less likely to get Covid-19 and transmit it to others.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation spread about the vaccine. It can be difficult to determine which information is proven to be true. Your doctor is an excellent source for up-to-date information on vaccine safety, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have.
An additional reason to get your teenagers vaccinated is that as of right now, people who are fully vaccinated and exposed to Covid-19 do not have to quarantine. This will keep your teenager in school and playing their sports after an exposure.
Wear a Mask
Masks are another barrier of protection. I like to think about masks like I think about seatbelts in a car. I know a seatbelt may not offer 100% protection if I get into a car crash but wearing a seat belt greatly reduces my risk of severe injury.
The best mask is a mask that your child finds comfortable and will wear properly. Medical grade masks, such as KN-95s, or cloth masks with filters do offer more protection, but they won’t work well if your child won’t wear them properly.
Children are continuously watching you and your reactions guide their acceptance of things. If you present having to wear a mask in school for a second year as no big deal, they are likely to wear it without complaint. Likewise, if you act like mask wearing is a huge burden and inconvenience, they will likely feel the same way. There have been multiple studies done on adverse effects of mask wearing and masks do not cause any health problems for those that wear them.
Have a Back-Up Plan
This past year taught all of us the importance of flexibility in the face of uncertainty. At the start of the school year last year, we didn’t know what to expect since we had never sent our kids to school in a pandemic before. This year, I know to expect some quarantines due to exposure and that there will be times my kids wake up with a cough or runny nose and I will need to keep them home until they can get tested. It’s best to plan for these scenarios and know where you can access testing for Covid-19. Your pediatrician’s office is a good source of information for this.
In the last 1 1/2 years we have gained vast amounts of scientific knowledge about Covid-19. With this new knowledge, guidelines and recommendations have changed multiple times. Some people find this change frustrating. But I find it reassuring that our health department changes the guidelines, because that means they are responding to the latest knowledge and information we have.
It’s easy to get discouraged and think we are back in the same place we were last year at this time. But that’s not the case. We now have tools to detect, treat and prevent this virus from infecting us. If you are unvaccinated and eligible for the vaccine, I encourage you to get out and get your vaccine to protect yourself and those around you!