Health

Can vaccinated grandparents finally see their grandkids? Your coronavirus questions answered

Can fully-vaccinated seniors safely get together? What about gathering with unvaccinated grandchildren? Your questions, answered.

Visiting unvaccinated loved ones could be 'complicated,' doctor says

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Welcome to The National, the flagship nightly newscast of CBC News. 0:00

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we'll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we've received more than 69,800 emails from all over the country.

Is it safe for vaccinated grandparents to see their grandkids?

It's been an incredibly long and difficult year for so many Canadians, especially for the grandparents who've written to us to say they've gone 12 whole months without hugging, or even seeing, their grandkids over fear of getting sick or worse.

"We have stayed put at home like good little girls and boys for the past year," wrote grandmother Gaille M. who wanted to know if vaccination might mean the family members can finally get together.

The short answer is, it's complicated.

Despite mass vaccination campaigns underway across the country, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is still recommending that we all "avoid or keep exposure very brief" with people outside of our immediate households. 

"This is a really controversial question," said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and medical director of infection control at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, in a recent CBC News Network interview.

"We know the vaccines are going to reduce those grandparents' risk of death and disability if they do get COVID-19," said Chagla, and while vaccines "probably" reduce the risk of the grandparents transmitting it to their grandchildren, he warned it's not entirely risk-free, especially because children cannot yet be immunized.

"When you start mixing crowds with different degrees of vaccination, where those people can go into other settings, it is a whole lot trickier," Chagla said. That's because the virus may spread from grandkids to other family members, or vice versa

Even if you have both doses, you may still be at risk of potentially catching the virus, explained Maria Sundaram, an infectious disease epidemiologist who studies vaccines.

"It's likely that if you were, you might not notice it or you might have a milder illness," Sundaram said in a recent CBC News Network interview. "So I'd say still try to take some precautions ... that you've been taking."

Health Canada's Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said waiting until both parties are vaccinated offers the best level of protection.

"We don't want to give people the sense that as soon as you've got your vaccine, you've got this cloak of invincibility and you can never get [COVID-19]," said Sharma. "They're excellent, but there still is a potential risk."

People should assess their individual risk tolerance, she said.

"Each situation is a little bit different, but we're not at a place, unfortunately, yet that we can say as soon as somebody has got a vaccine, that they can go back ... and do all of those things that they were doing before," she said.

But as we learn more about the vaccines in a real-world setting, the public health guidance could soon change.

Can fully-vaccinated seniors safely get together?

A senior receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine from at a pharmacy prototype clinic in Halifax on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Health Canada's Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma says holding off on visits until both parties are vaccinated offers the best level of protection. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Yes. People who are fully vaccinated interacting with other fully vaccinated people is "pretty low-risk" said Sundaram.

Chagla agreed, and pointed out that there are long-term care facilities that have allowed their vaccinated seniors to have controlled group activities.

"If you have two people that are vaccinated together in a single room, they're the lowest risk people in that sense," he said.

Though all of the approved vaccines offer a high level of protection, they don't offer 100 per cent protection, said Sharma. 

"It's possible someone who is vaccinated could still get and transmit COVID-19," she said.

Public Health guidelines same for everyone in Canada

A spokesperson for Health Canada confirmed on Monday that PHAC has not updated its guidelines and for the time being and remain the same for everyone, whether vaccinated or not.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated guidelines to say it's OK for fully vaccinated people to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors, without wearing masks or physical distancing.

The CDC also says fully vaccinated people in the U.S. can "visit with unvaccinated people from a single household" without masks or physical distancing if they are "at low risk for severe COVID-19." 

It is important to note the number of fully vaccinated people in Canada remains low. As of Tuesday, only 1.5 per cent of the population has received two doses. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anukul Thakur

ASK CBC News

Anukul has been working with the Ask CBC News team since 2020.

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