News & Advice

What Vaccination Approval for 5 to 11 Year Olds Means for Family Travel

The long-awaited news is a sigh of relief for parents looking for a safe return to travel.
Aerial view of Cala Turqueta beach Menorca Balearic Islands Spain

The last major group of Americans is now eligible for their COVID-19 shots. On Tuesday afternoon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The news comes just in time to get the age group partially vaccinated before the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, one of the nation’s busiest travel periods.

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”

Kids already started rolling up their sleeves Wednesday to get the 10 microgram dose—one third of the adult dosage—which they will also need two shots of 21 days apart.

Overall, kids have been less susceptible to COVID-19 than adults, but there were still 1.9 million cases in kids 5 to 11, including 8,300 hospitalizations and at least 94 deaths, according to the CDC. With that risk, especially during peak periods of variant transmission, parents definitely shifted their pandemic-era travel habits.

“With vaccinations rolling out for younger kids, we do feel more at ease about traveling,”says L.A.-based publicist Kannie Yu LaPack, who has a 7- and 10-year-old. “Previously, we would only travel to places where we can mostly be outdoors like national parks and Lake Arrowhead, but with vaccinations more widely adopted, we do feel more comfortable putting kids on planes to branch out to other places.”

That’s been the widespread sentiment as Dr. Lynn Minnaert, academic chair of New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, says that the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey she authored with the Family Travel Association showed that “for many families with younger children, the fact that kids were not vaccinated was a major concern.”

Before any form of inoculation was available last holiday season, many skipped their normal getaways. “The advent of the vaccines has already given many families the green light and renewed confidence to travel again, especially to spend time with those loved ones who they may not have been with in person for quite some time,” Family Travel Association founder Rainer Jenss says. “Even more families will be traveling this holiday season and into next year.”

Minnaert predicts an uptick as soon as this Thanksgiving, even if the youngsters haven’t finished their complete dosage regimen. “Other family members may be [vaccinated] and that reduces the risk,” she says.

Additionally, the pause button that was placed on so many milestones can finally resume. Therapist Rebekah Rosler of Fairfield, Connecticut, says she’s been “desperate for this” vaccine, as her kids haven’t gone inside anywhere since March 13, 2020—except for school just in the last couple of months. “No friends or activities for 18 months,” she says. “If I can get my 5-year-old kid a shot in her arm, along with my booster, I’ll be flying to Scotland to attend my sister’s wedding in January.”

That peace of mind paired with pent-up wanderlust is putting many multigenerational family trips at the forefront of the priority list. “Celebration travel should be something we see more of moving forward,” Jenss says. “Also, there has already been a strong rebound in multigenerational travel which should continue.” 

Many of those trips are being led by an unlikely group: grandparents. “At the beginning of the pandemic, many people wanted to protect the elderly, so they held off from traveling with them or traveling to see them,” he says. “The tide has turned and the grandparents are leading the charge in many cases.”

But just because kids can get the jabs doesn’t completely eliminate the risk. “While the vaccine protects against severe illness, it does not guarantee to prevent infection, so it is important to still be cautious and use common sense,” Minnaert says. “Young children may be less willing to wear masks, for example, so if the weather allows it, it's still good to look for outdoor activities.” Jenss suggests turning to travel advisors who can not only strategically plan the best itineraries, but also help navigate COVID-19 travel restrictions that are still in place in many parts of the world.

Indeed, as the approval for the kids' vaccine loomed closer, Kristi Marcelle of family travel agency Ciao Bambino had already started seeing a surge in recent weeks for international family vacations. “These families are planning multiple trips at once, often spring break and summer at the same time and choosing unique and mostly private experiences,” she says. “I'm also seeing more multigenerational and month-long extended vacations, mainly in Europe.” Families with young kids are also still looking for “easy” travel with nonstop flights and additional amenities for safety and comfort. “Winter dude ranch vacations for the holidays and February breaks are especially popular as they are all inclusive and promote active adventure and family time with no cooking involved,” she adds.

Of course there’s one major side effect of the return of family travel—with demand comes higher prices. “I expect that any last-minute holiday plans will be an expensive affair,” Minnaert says. “Rather than waiting for last-minute deals, I would recommend that families book early for the 2022 spring or summer season: there will be more chances of discounts, and many travel businesses are offering flexible terms now if you need to change your trip.”

Even though younger Americans can get the shot, that level of vaccination may not exist in international destinations, who are on different timelines. “We were avid travelers before COVID and had to cancel a trip to Japan because of the pandemic,” says freelance writer Barbara Brody, who has an 8-year-old. “We managed to travel the past two summers but only domestically. Once my daughter is vaccinated we'll be much more comfortable returning to international travel, though of course we'll have to wait to see which countries are willing to let us in as the pandemic continues.”