I never thought I would see my parents so happy to get a shot, but this wasn’t just any shot, this was a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. For them, and soon all of us, this shot brings hope and lifts a heavy load of fear we have all been living with for the past year. Since last March, our family has had a lot of anxiety and unease, not wanting to be the ones to get my parents or my in-laws sick, especially knowing this age group has been hardest hit. So the sight of the second shot going into their arms brought a huge sense of relief. We are not out of the woods, but we can see light through the trees after a very difficult 12 months.
One of the most difficult parts for the grandparents in our family has been not seeing their grandchildren as much. They all live close to us and were a big part of our daily lives. They would come to sporting events, help with rides, or just pop in to say hello. Because they all live close, we have seen them but far less, and it has been outside, socially distanced, and wearing masks, but this last year most kids haven’t been able to see their grandparents at all.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control revised their guidelines to say, “… fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter and her healthy children without wearing masks or physical distancing, provided none of the unvaccinated family members are at risk of severe Covid-19.” This was such welcome news to all of us, especially as we look toward summer.
However, many health experts are warning vaccination is not a free ticket back to pre-Covid life; there are still risks. Research shows the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, so there is still a small chance that someone who has been vaccinated could get Covid-19. The other risk is experts still don’t have enough data to know if the vaccine reduces transmission of the virus. So even if you are vaccinated, you still could be a carrier of the virus and could unknowingly spread it to those around you who aren’t vaccinated.
RISK VERSUS REWARD
For many grandparents who have only seen their grandkids on Zoom, Facetime, or socially distant, the reward may outweigh these risks. Grandparents want to see how long their grandkids’ hair has gotten or how tall they have grown over the past year. Experts recommend if you decide the reward is greater than the risk and want to hug your grandchild and visit indoors, then maybe you refrain from other higher risk activities such as indoor dining or visiting crowded places.
There is also the mental health toll this virus has taken across all age groups, a toll that I don’t think we have even fully begun to realize. In particular, older people who have been very isolated, especially those in skilled nursing or assisted living facilities. Grandchildren can bring joy, happiness, and even meaning to their lives, because grandparents live for their grandchild’s next milestone. Those fortunate grandparents may have found new ways to connect using technology, but as we all have learned, nothing can quite replace a hug or connecting in person.
In our family, we have lived through a full year of holidays and birthday celebrations over Zoom or braving the elements outside. Recently, we celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday and we all gathered together — outside with masks — but all being together felt so good and so normal, which was something we all needed.
Until children are able to get the vaccine, which for teens, is looking like next fall at the earliest, and until we get to herd immunity as a country, masks will remain a part of daily life. It is also expected that as the number of people vaccinated increases and the number of Covid cases is decreasing, the CDC will continue to revise guidelines especially around travel, so there is hope that by summer more people will be able to travel farther to visit grandparents.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]