What Should Parents Know About the Delta Variant, Kids and Back to School?

Updated on August 19, 2021

The Delta variant may be the most contagious COVID-19 strain yet, causing outbreaks around the globe – even in places where the virus had previously been under control. In the United States, it has quickly become responsible for more than 90% of all COVID-19 infections nationwide.

What does that mean for kids who are and aren’t vaccinated?

Connecticut Children’s infectious disease expert John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH shares seven things parents should know.

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1. The Delta variant is highly contagious, especially among unvaccinated people.

We already know that the Delta variant spreads incredibly easily, especially among unvaccinated people: It seems to be about 50% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.

Scientists are studying whether it also leads to more serious illness than previous strains. But in any case, it’s possible for kids to get very sick from COVID-19 – any strains, not just the Delta variant – including with a serious inflammatory illness known as MIS-C.

2. Fully vaccinated kids and adults have strong protection against the Delta variant.

The good news is that all three vaccines authorized in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are highly effective against the Delta variant.

That means that after full vaccination, your child will have a much smaller chance of catching and spreading the Delta variant. And even if they did become infected – known as a “breakthrough infection” – the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness from the Delta variant.

> Related: If Everyone But Your Child Has Their COVID-19 Vaccine, Is Summer Travel Safe?

3. So if your child is old enough but still not vaccinated, get their COVID-19 vaccine ASAP.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two doses, with a three- or four-week wait in between. (Johnson & Johnson is a single dose.) After your child’s final dose of any COVID-19 vaccine, it takes another two weeks for their body to build up full immunity.

Pfizer’s vaccine is currently the only option for kids ages 12 to 17. So for kids in this age group, that means your child will have to wait three weeks between doses, and another two weeks after that – a total of at least five weeks from a first shot to their strongest protection from COVID-19. With the back-to-school season here, it’s important to schedule your child’s COVID-19 vaccine ASAP. 

4. If your child has only gotten one dose of Pfizer or Moderna, make sure they get their second dose now.

For Pfizer and Moderna, which are both two-dose vaccines, that second shot is very important, especially against the Delta variant.

Ideally, your child should get their second dose of Pfizer three weeks after the first dose, and the second dose of Moderna four weeks after the first dose. Again, it takes about two weeks for their body to build up its strongest immunity against COVID-19.

5. If your child isn’t old enough for the COVID-19 vaccine, keep a mask handy and avoid high-risk situations.

While fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to be too concerned about getting seriously sick from the Delta variant, it’s a different story for unvaccinated people, including kids.

Until your child is old enough to get their COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask is their best protection against the Delta variant.

Your family should also follow the other safety guidelines that we’ve come to know so well:

  • Make sure every eligible family member is fully vaccinated.
  • Mask up in indoor public spaces.
  • Avoid crowds, especially indoors.
  • Wash hands properly and often.
  • Stay home and call a doctor if sick.

> Related: Ask a Pediatrician: What Should I Do When My Child Has a Common Cold During COVID-19?

6. The Delta variant may impact whether schools require masks this fall.

Connecticut’s and New England’s COVID-19 numbers are currently lower than many other parts of the United States. However, now that the Delta variant has arrived in our part of the country, community infection rates are increasing.

As leaders decide how schools should resume classes in a few weeks, they will keep a close eye on these community infection rates to determine whether classroom safety measures like masking and social distancing should continue.

7. With a return to the classroom on the horizon, vaccines are the best protection for your child.

If your child is age 12 or older, it’s more important than ever to get their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, along with other eligible members of your family.

If your child is age 11 or younger, keep up the healthy habits that they – and you – probably know by heart by now. And watch for news of a vaccine for their age group, which could be coming as soon as this fall.


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