5 ways parents can protect infants and toddlers from COVID-19

Young children aren't yet eligible for vaccination.

August 18, 2021, 5:07 AM

With the delta variant surging, and new data indicating young people can spread COVID more readily than previously thought, many parents with infants and toddlers are now left with questions about how to best protect their child.

Children who are less than two years old cannot safely wear a mask and do not have an option to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 yet. They can’t decide for themselves where they go, who they are around or what is in their environment -- that is left up to a parent or caretaker to decide for them.

Scientists are still learning more about COVID-19 risk and transmission among young children under two. The good news is that even when they do get COVID, they seem less likely to become severely sick compared to adults. And there are several concrete steps parents can take to procreate a safe environment for young children.

1. Get vaccinated

Three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use for anyone who is 18 years old. Pfizer is authorized for anyone over the age of 12. All three have proved to be safe and effective. Even as the new delta variant takes over as the dominant variant in the United States, these vaccines can still work against it.

Very often, children who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are living in households in which parents are not vaccinated, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It's always tragic when children fall sick with COVID-19," Offit told ABC News. "This year, these stories are more tragic because they’re preventable."

2. Make sure everyone around your child is vaccinated

Young children aren't yet eligible for vaccination, but if every person around them was vaccinated, this creates protection against the virus. Limiting the number of people you encounter who are unvaccinated can help create a safer environment for you and your family that will then offer some protection for your unvaccinated child.

In this April 8, 2021, file photo, women wearing masks push strollers in Central Park in New York.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images, FILE

This can be a very hard thing to do, especially if you live in a largely unvaccinated community, but weighing the risk COVID-19 can pose to your child is worth it. It may also be the push some people need to get vaccinated, too.

3. Get vaccinated if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Vaccines are now recommended for people who are pregnant after a study showed taking a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy is safe for parent and child. Meanwhile, new research indicates mothers may be able to pass along antibodies against COVID-19 to your baby.

Antibodies are a part of our immune systems that help recognize and fight off infections. When a woman is pregnant, some antibodies can cross through the placenta and are found in babies' blood up to a few months after they are born. Antibodies can also be passed through breastmilk.

This type of antibody protection for babies is called “passive immunity.” Your baby’s immune system will not be able to make their own antibodies from what is passed through the placenta or breastmilk, but experts say every bit counts, and some protection is likely better than nothing.

4. Social distancing and masking in public

When you and your young child are in public, it may be impossible to know if those around you are vaccinated. Try to maintain a safe distance away from others and wear a mask, especially in indoor areas where there may be many unvaccinated people.

If your infant is in a carrier, a blanket can be draped over the carrier, but make sure that’s only done when the carrier is in your view and the blanket should not be touching the baby. If you can, find a trusted, vaccinated babysitter if you need a night or day out, so you don’t have to bring your more vulnerable baby with you, especially to activities such as indoor dining that carry a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccination dose, while carrying a baby in tow, on Aug. 3, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

5. Everyone should wash their hands

Every time someone visits your home from outside, make sure the first thing they touch is soap and water to wash their hands, especially before touching your child. In fact, pediatricians recommend this all year round, with or without a pandemic in any home that has a child less than two years old. It is an easy way to prevent the spread of many infectious diseases that can be tough on young children.

Dr. Jade A. Cobern, a pediatric resident in Baltimore entering the field of preventive medicine, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

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