By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

No, you’re not being rude.

“It should be the new normal this holiday season … it’s important to ask for the vaccination status of hosts and invitees,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, an infectious disease expert, professor and associate chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

“With a new baby, we ask everyone who wants to visit to be vaccinated and if not, to be masked,” said Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a Phoenix, Arizona, pediatrician, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a father of four young children. If you are in an area with high COVID-19 transmission, he adds, public health officials recommend even those vaccinated be masked indoors.

Instead of a hostess gift, bring a negative COVID test, especially if those coming (and hosting) include young children or family members who are immune compromised. Alternatively, Dr. Kirkilas says, you can politely excuse yourselves from attending a holiday gathering.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that all children five and older (without any contraindications) get the COVID-19 vaccine appropriate for their age group (one-third the dose of the adult Pfizer vaccine, which was recently approved for 5 to 11 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Having children vaccinated will not only protect them but it will protect younger siblings and elder relatives who may be at risk at holiday gatherings. Vaccinated kids will also be safer traveling, though masking and when possible social distancing should still be practiced. In fact, traveling will be the thing this year as the U.S. has lifted the ban on travel from 33 countries and families are welcoming relatives from Mexico, Britain, China, India and many other places this holiday season.

Still, said Dr. Rathore, “Your child and you may be vaccinated but others around, unfortunately, may not be and the unvaccinated do place everyone around them at higher risk of infection.”

But that’s assuming parents buy in. Only about a third of parents of 5 to 11 year olds report they are eager to get the vaccine, while a third say they will wait; and a third say they will definitely not get the vaccine for their children, including their teens, according to a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. For those 12 and older, only 58 percent of those under age 15 were fully vaccinated by the end of October, the American Academy of Pediatrics found.

“There is disinformation, incorrect information and information that is intentionally incorrect,” said Dr. David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and expert on children’s mental health, who is the director, National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “People have very strong opinions and you see people passionately voicing them and it does bring conflict into families.”

Especially during holiday gatherings and despite overwhelming evidence that the vaccine not only is safe for children but also their best protection against COVID-19. “Parents should feel comforted not just that their children will be protected but that this vaccine has gone through the necessary and rigorous evaluation that ensures the vaccine is safe and highly effective,” said. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Kirkilas noted that five-to-11-year-olds attending school have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 — more than 24 percent of new cases are among youth—100,630 cases., an extremely high numer with over 1.3 million cases diagnosed in children just since the beginning of September.. Since the start of the pandemic nearly 6.4 million children have tested positive, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. “School is a perfect setup for passing the virus around,” he said. “Fortunately, most children do well. But we have thousands of kids who require hospitalization and we’ve had pediatric deaths … It’s still out there.”

Likely, most kids won’t be able to be fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving and it will be tight to make it by Christmas as three weeks are required between shots, and it takes two weeks after the second shot to be fully vaccinated.

Whatever the kids’ vaccination status, it will be impossible to avoid the topic when planning holiday gatherings. Kids also may be stressed by the disagreements over the vaccine between family members and friends. Older kids and teens may disagree with their parents’ as well, Dr. Schonfeld said.

The key is to discuss this with the kids in advance. Dr. Shonfeld said kids are used to adults disagreeing. Adults need to try not to put child in the middle and “help the child to understand,” why they have chosen to get them vaccinated (to keep them and their community safe), or not. “But there is no need to get combative,” said Dr. Kirkilas.

For the travel industry, meanwhile, and many families who have postponed travel, news of additional vaccine eligibility for kids is welcome news and likely will signal a big return to family travel. “A game changer,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, which pre-pandemic carried more than a million children a year, the most in the industry. Though unvaccinated younger kids have been permitted on board (with additional testing required and limited “bubble shore excursions”), Carnival’s popular Club Ocean programs have been shuttered, with only teen programs operating for vaccinated teens.

Parents should be prepared that besides cruise lines, many destinations outside the U.S. require that a final dose of the vaccine be received at least 14 days before the trip and even those fully vaccinated may be required to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. (Many insurance companies now are covering these tests.) Another negative test will be required before you can return to the U.S., which in my experience, you have to pay for. Some resorts, including Sandals’ family Beaches Resorts are covering these tests.

A growing number of restaurants — everywhere from San Francisco to Vail Resorts — are requiring vaccination cards for those eligible to be vaccinated. It’s unlikely younger kids will be required to show cards right away, however.

“If we can help children to discuss different opinions and be respectful of the differences, that’s probably one of the most important things we should be doing now,” said Dr. Shonfeld.

Stay safe this Thanksgiving.

©2021 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.