Do kids need to get the COVID-19 vaccine before traveling?

Jun 8, 2021

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More than 50% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. And many of the people who have been vaccinated — or are scheduled to receive the vaccine soon — are thinking about their travel plans for this summer and beyond.

There’s a noticeable group of people who aren’t vaccinated yet: kids under 12. And another group that just started to be vaccinated en masse: tweens and teens. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 10 authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15 years old in the United States. (Moderna also said on May 25 that its vaccine was effective in children ages 12 to 17, although it has yet to gain approval for use). And now, roughly 2% of people under 18 have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re traveling domestically with young kids, or even older ones, there are no COVID-19 testing requirements. But even if you haven’t left home since the onset of the pandemic, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that traveling abroad with kids is a bit different than it used to be. Adults traveling with kids may, in some instances, have different travel requirements as a result of the pandemic. So, what does that mean for your family’s travel plans?

Here’s what to know about traveling when part of your family is unvaccinated. 

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Can children get a COVID-19 vaccine?

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Approving children for vaccination is a crucial step in the fight against the pandemic and could mean many more families booking travel. Many parents have been waiting to hear about vaccinations for kids before booking family trips.

Currently, there’s an age limit on all three vaccines available under the Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine available for kids 12 to 17, so far. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only available for adults who are 18 and over. 

According to The New York Times, younger children will probably be eligible this fall when Pfizer plans to seek emergency authorization for children between the ages of 2 and 11. Additionally, results from Moderna’s clinical trial in children as young as 6 months are expected by the end of the year. For now, though, kids under 12 aren’t eligible for any version of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“[The] CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 12 years of age and older to help protect against COVID-19,” the CDC said on its website. “Children 12 years of age and older are able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.”

Related: What you need to know about all the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

Can children travel abroad if they haven’t been vaccinated?

(Featured image by narvikk/Getty Images)

Dozens of countries have now reopened to U.S. tourists, and some of those countries are only welcoming — or waiving testing and quarantine requirements for — fully vaccinated travelers.

At this time, travelers from the U.S., EU and Schengen area are now permitted to enter Greece, providing you’re either vaccinated or can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test (this would apply to nonvaccinated children).

Italy is also open to travelers again with similar requirements, as is Croatia. As the summer progresses, and more European countries open their borders, you can expect to see other vaccination and negative COVID-19 test requirements. In brief: It will be quicker and easier to bring vaccinated teens and tweens across borders, but younger kids should still be able to travel with you as long they test negative for COVID-19.

In other cases, being able to show proof of vaccination may be your only way in. Iceland, for example, said it would accept fully vaccinated travelers. These travelers would not be required to quarantine upon arrival. 

Related: Can you skip quarantine if you’ve been vaccinated?

We can also look at the cruise industry for an idea about how destinations and travel providers might accommodate families who are traveling with unvaccinated children.

Two sister cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, said adult passengers would need to be fully vaccinated to sail when they resume operations. However, both lines said children under 18 could sail with proof of a negative COVID-19 test instead of proof of vaccination. But changes are happening fast to these requirements and they aren’t standard across embarkation ports. For example, on Royal Caribbean sailings to Alaska, anyone 16 years of age or older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and those 12 or older as of Aug. 1.

But, Royal Caribbean has also relaxed its vaccination policy for sailings out of Florida and Texas. Even unvaccinated passengers may sail on those itineraries on Royal Caribbean ships. The cruise line said, “Guests are strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated, if they are eligible. Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date.”

(Photo by narvikk/Getty Images)

At this time, there is no vaccine requirement to travel back to the United States. U.S. airlines oppose travel vaccine requirements but asked the Biden administration to exempt vaccinated travelers from international testing requirements. 

At this time, however, travelers flying into the United States from abroad still need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding — even if fully vaccinated. All passengers 2 years of age and older traveling into the U.S. must provide proof of a negative test taken no more than three days before flying back to the U.S. 

Related: What you need to know about getting COVID-19 tested for US-bound international flights

Bottom line

(Photo by nodrama_llama/Shutterstock)

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that travelers, even children, may be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit certain countries or travel with certain providers.

We’ve seen this play out before with other vaccines required around the world. The yellow fever vaccination, for example, is recommended or required for entry into countries such as Liberia and Uganda, while the meningococcal vaccination is required for travelers entering Saudi Arabia for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. 

There’s still a lot that’s unclear about traveling with unvaccinated children, but the cruise industry’s plan to require that children test negative for the virus in place of having a vaccine points to the most likely trend, as can be seen with the reopening of Greece and Italy. 

The travel industry won’t want to alienate a large swath of travelers — and their parents — by barring access to children who have yet to be vaccinated. That means it’s likely that unvaccinated children will have to use other methods to prove they’re healthy, such as testing negative for COVID-19.

Featured photo by FamVeld/Shutterstock

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