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Indoor playdate? Experts say kids who are too young to be vaccinated are still safest outdoors

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TORONTO -

In the wake of federal guidance that outlines how fully-vaccinated adults can safely gather, experts suggest that children under 12—who are too young to be immunized—stick to outdoor gatherings to prevent mini-outbreaks of COVID-19 among kids.

Friday’s framework from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicated that adults who had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days ago could gather both indoors and outdoors with other fully-immunized people in small groups. But there were no specific protocols offered for young kids, for whom there is no approved vaccine.

“The virus can still spread in those communities and so we have to certainly keep that in mind,” Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey told CTV News Toronto.

“That’s where that local context comes in place, where we have the Delta variant here in Toronto, we have hotspots identified in Ontario, and so that may cause parents in areas where Delta is spreading to take the lower-risk approach.”

That lower-risk approach, say experts, often entails choosing outdoor gatherings over indoor ones.

“If you have a few families that you associate with, and your kids associate with them, I think it’s safer always to do things outside,” said University of Toronto paediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Banerji.

“Indoor gatherings are trickier,” University of Ottawa epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan agreed, saying risk-assessments should be based on the number of people involved and their COVID-19 exposure levels.

“I think it’s probably okay for unvaccinated children to be with fully-vaccinated adults indoors, so long as other factors in the community are trending in the right direction.”

Deonandan recommends following the protocols established in schools—where indoor masking and cohorting remain in place.

In response to questions about what protocols unvaccinated kids should follow at this point, the Public Health Agency of Canada told CTV News Toronto in a statement that parents should seek clarity from their local public health authorities.

“They will be able to provide their latest advice in light of their local epidemiology and vaccination uptake status,” said a spokesperson.

Dubey said she expects Ontario to release its own guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals soon, and points to the province’s Step 2 framework, set to come into effect Wednesday, which caps indoor gatherings at five people.

Meanwhile experts are optimistic that children under 12 will be offered vaccines sooner rather than later—potentially even, by the end of this year. Both Pfizer and Moderna are currently conducting studies on the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children as young as six months.

“Hopefully in the next few months the vaccines will be licensed for younger kids,” said Banerji.“If we can hold out until then and create this wall around the kids, try to get the kids to be outside, and wear the masks, I think that’s really important.”

“What we’re trying to do now is buffer the children into a place where they don’t catch COVID until we can actually get them protected,” said Dubey. 

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