HuffPost UK reader Evelyn asked: “I have had the vaccine, is it now ok to hug my grandchildren after three weeks?”
After having the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – and for some, the second – many want to know if it’s now safe to hug their grandchildren.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries recently said children should not hug their grandparents “too much”, even if they’ve been vaccinated. The worry is children are more likely to be asymptomatic – meaning they don’t show symptoms – so they could unknowingly pass the virus on through a hug.
We don’t fully know how much the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines ease transmission between people. Initial studies suggest they do have some effect on the virus’ spread, but it’s still early days. And while the vaccine should offer protection against the worst effects of the virus, Dr Harries cautiously warned that the full impact of them is still not fully known.
“I would encourage children... even if grandparents have had their vaccinations, not to go hugging them too much until we are absolutely sure what the impact of that vaccination rollout has been,” she said. “I’m sure it’s going to be positive but we just need to take a steady course out through the road map.”
So, does that mean no hugs at all? “This is a difficult one,” says Professor Paul Hunter, of the Norwich School of Medicine at University of East Anglia, “as it depends on a number of issues.”
Hugging between members of different households still remains largely against the rules, unless you’re in a childcare or support bubble. If you’re a grandparent who’s in a different household to your grandchild, but not bubbled up, “you shouldn’t be hugging for at least a couple more months,” Prof Hunter advises.
If you’re in a bubble and considering hugging, it’s worth bearing in mind a couple of things first. Are either you or the child extremely clinically vulnerable? If the answer is yes, Prof Hunter suggests it’s best not to hug just yet.
It’s also worth noting how old your grandchild is. “There’s evidence that secondary school children are more of a risk than younger children,” he says. All of these are important to weigh up before swooping in for a squeeze.
Parents and children of all ages in England are preparing for the reopening of English schools on March 8, meanwhile the youngest pupils have returned to school in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the youngest primary school students will return on March 8.
This will impact transmission – although by how much, we don’t know, especially as children are less likely to display symptoms.
“My personal view is that if you’re caring for a child under 11 within a childcare or support bubble – or you live together and you are not extremely clinically vulnerable – then hugging would not be against the rules,” says Prof Hunter.
“If you are more than three weeks post first vaccination, then any risk would be tolerable for both you and the child. But nothing is zero risk,” he adds.
“Nevertheless, in my view you cannot properly care for a young child without being able to hug them.”
Dr Peter English, a consultant in communicable disease control and past chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, believes people should follow the rules – this means not hugging grandchildren unless you’re bubbled up.
“The vaccines appear to prevent severe illness from about three weeks after they are given,” he wrote in a blog post on the topic. “So, if your granny – or any older person at higher risk (excluding those who are immune-suppressed) – was vaccinated at least three weeks ago, they’ll be about 90% less likely to be seriously ill if infected – and after the second dose, even less likely.”
While the risks of having a cuddle will be reduced, he added, it could still lead to them becoming infectious and infecting others. As a result, he’d urge caution when going in for that hug.
Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.