Covid Questions: A Q&A with Dr. Leana S. Wen

by | Mar 1, 2021 | Blog

Washington Post contributing columnist Dr. Leana S. Wen answered reader questions on the coronavirus in a recent interview in the newspaper. Below are excerpts from that column that most directly relate to children and families. To read the full transcript, which covers many more topics, click here.

Q: My spouse and I just received our second vaccine. Can we visit our children and grandchildren even though they are not vaccinated?

Wen: My answer here is yes: if the main reason you were not visiting the rest of your family was out of concern for your health, if you are now fully vaccinated (and it’s been 14 days to allow for optimal immunity), you should be able to visit them. Just remember that you could still, in theory, carry coronavirus and be a danger to them, so try to reduce your risk as much as possible before seeing them (i.e., do not also have other social gatherings), and make sure you are wearing a mask during travel. Longer answer about dos/don’ts after vaccination are in my latest column here .

Q: When will teenagers be allowed to get the vaccine?

Wen: Teens 16 and above are able to receive the Pfizer vaccine when it’s their turn, and those 18 and above are authorized for the Moderna vaccine. Studies are now being done for children 12 and above. Those should have results by the summer.

Q:  My 5- & 6-year-old children have been doing remote learning since last March, however their friends have been back in school for a while now. Is it ok for us to have playdates either indoor or outside with them? None of their families feel that it is necessary for the kids to wear masks on playdates, which has made it pretty awkward for us. We pretty much just stick to ourselves, but I am wondering if that is totally necessary? It is getting harder to explain to them why so many of our friends and family members are back to normal life, while we are definitely not.

Wen: I would not have playdates with families who are not taking the same type of precautions as you. If you do have playdates, make sure there are masks on at all times from all involved and that they are outdoors. Remember that most infections are not arising in formal settings (like schools), but in informal social settings. Your family and so many others have given up so much during the pandemic. We are not far from the end–let’s hang on for a little longer!

Q: Should pregnant women be vaccinated? Does the answer change if the otherwise healthy woman developed gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy?

Wen: The vaccines were not tested in pregnant women, so they aren’t explicitly recommended for them, but there is also no recommendation against it either. There is no known adverse effect in pregnant women, and the vaccine does not contain a live virus, so there’s no physiological reason as to why it can’t be given. Multiple groups of OB/GYNs have said that this decision should be left up to the woman, in consultation with her doctor. Pregnant patients are at higher risk for severe disease from covid-19. Someone who is in at high-risk for exposure (i.e., essential worker) and/or has underlying medical conditions may decide that the risk of contracting covid-19 outweighs any theoretical risk of the vaccine.

Q:  We live in MD and have a son who is a young adult with autism. The best place for him to receive the vaccine is at our PCP’s practice because they know him. He will not wear a mask and will be very afraid. So why are these doctors not being allocated vaccines? Ours has the necessary storage for either one.

Wen: Good question. I really think it’s critical for primary care doctors to have access to the vaccine. Many patients prefer to go to their PCPs. PCPs are also trusted messengers, and it would make sense for PCPs to recommend the vaccine and then have the vaccine right there and then for their patients, instead of having to refer them to mass vaccination sites or pharmacies. I think this will change as there is more vaccine supply. Having the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also help, as it’s one (like AstraZeneca’s) that can be stored for months at normal refrigerator temperatures. Best wishes to you and your son!

Q: Thinking ahead to the late spring/early summer – what is the possibility that large gatherings will be safe if held outside and everyone attending is vaccinated? What about the necessity of masks?

Wen: There’s a good chance that we can get together with others by the summer if everyone there is fully vaccinated. Whether this happens will depend on several factors, including if vaccines are found to offer excellent protection against emerging variants, if vaccine verification can be done reliably for all attendees, and if data continue to show that vaccines will reduce likelihood of being a carrier for coronavirus. Depending on the answers to these questions and the size of the gathering, masks may still be advised, but I’d predict–based on what we know thus far–that outdoor events like weddings and such can probably be held by the summer.

Q: Once I’ve had my second vaccination shot and the appropriate amount of time afterwards has passed, what freedoms do I now have? Can I be around other people who have not had their vaccinations? Do I still need to wear a mask? Basically, how should I behave now?

Wen: The short answer is that we don’t know yet. That’s because the vaccines are so effective at preventing you from getting sick from coronavirus yourself, but we don’t yet know whether it prevents you from being a carrier and transmitting it to others. The CDC recommends that you continue wearing a mask and practicing social distancing for this reason. It has not given guidelines for interacting with others. Here’s what I’d say. I think you should be able to see others who are fully vaccinated, because the chance of you infecting the others involved and vice versa, and getting sick from it, is pretty low. I also think that grandparents who are eager to see grandkids should be able to do, with some precautions.

Q: Why is there not more guidance on ineffective face coverings like bandanas and gaiters? Even employees in drug stores and groceries often use them. Can you please further redefine face covering to masks and described how they need to fit. Clarity does not necessarily lead to public resistance, just as likely to better cooperation.

Wen:  The CDC has come out with updated guidance on facial coverings . I like their new guidance on double-masking too, especially in higher-risk areas (i.e., surgical mask on first, then tighter-fitting cloth mask on top).

Q: After having had Covid-19 and if you are exposed to someone else who has it should you quarantine?

Wen: The CDC issued new guidance about this last week: if you’re fully vaccinated and/or have recently recovered from covid-19, you do not need to quarantine after being exposed to someone with covid-19.

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