8 to 3: Does having a vaccinated kid change everything, or nothing?

A little boy in a T-shirt with a panda bear receives a vaccination from a woman in a mask and gloves.
Seven-year-old Felix holds mom Caitlin Johnstone’s hand as he receives a child’s dose of the Pfizer vaccine from nurse Shirley Alfonso on Nov. 3 at Eugene A. Obregon Park in East Los Angeles.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

This is the Nov. 29, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, kids and parenting. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

Hello! I’m Deborah Netburn, faith and spirituality reporter at the L.A. Times, filling in for my friend and your usual newsletter writer, Laura Newberry. I’m glad to be here!

Today I want to talk about what happens now that those of us with elementary-school-age kids can finally get them vaccinated. Will everything change, or nothing?


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on Nov. 2. If you were one of those parents or caregivers who got your kid an appointment immediately, your child is probably fully vaccinated by now — or will be shortly.

It’s a moment many of us have dreamed about for a long time. And yet, I’ve found myself wondering what exactly will change once my own 10-year-old receives his second shot this Friday.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced that students who were fully vaccinated would not need to be tested weekly, which is nice. And if 85% of the kids in his school are vaccinated, he’ll be able to take off his mask when he’s outside.

But I know he’ll still be wearing a mask in the classroom for the foreseeable future. And if his fully vaccinated parents and older brother still don masks in movie theaters, stores, museums, airports and other indoor spaces, I expect he’ll be wearing his as well — just as he does now.

I suppose this vaccination means he can safely have sleepovers again, meet with his improv teacher maskless, and eat at indoor restaurants. (Although, in all honesty, we’ve been letting him do some of these things already.)

For some families, getting their elementary-school child vaccinated will have a greater impact. I’m thinking of my friends who have been extremely cautious over the last almost two years because they are immunocompromised, have a lung condition, or have prioritized being able to see elderly relatives. Hopefully, having their kids vaccinated will give them more peace of mind.

At the same time, I have friends who plan to wait a bit before getting their own children the shot to see if any side effects emerge.

To help us all think through the question of just how much of a life-changer having our 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated might be, I spoke with Dr. Kawsar Talaat, an infectious disease doctor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She ran clinical trials on the Pfizer vaccine for kids in this age group, and she has an elementary-school-aged child herself.


The Q&A is below, but here’s the takeaway: Getting your child vaccinated may not be radically life-altering, but it does offer significant improvements for all of us.

Is having a fully vaxxed kid a game-changer or not that big a deal?

KT: It’s a game-changer. Vaccinated kids are less likely to get infected, less likely to transmit the virus, and if they do come into contact with someone with COVID, they don’t have to be quarantined if they don’t have any symptoms. For schools, that’s huge.

Can families with vaccinated children live differently now?

KT: They can breathe a sigh of relief. The vaccine is like a shield for their kids. They can go to a restaurant, go to a friend’s house and have a meal, be with their grandparents, go bowling, go to the movies. It’s those really simple things that a lot of people have avoided.

Most kids in this age group didn’t get that sick with COVID anyway. Why do they need the vaccine?

KT: A few of them do get sick, and some of them get really, really sick. Over 700 kids died in the last year and a half. That’s more than from any other vaccine-preventable disease. Over 5,000 kids developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). Some have developed myocarditis and neurological devastation from COVID, although that is rare.

And the big reason is to allow them to stay in school and learn and do normal activities and do their athletics and be with their friends.

When can we expect elementary schools to drop the mask mandate?

KT: It’s going to vary from place to place. The more cautious school districts will use metrics like what percentage of kids and adults are vaccinated, and the positivity rates in the area. If everyone is vaccinated but there’s still a lot of COVID circulating, then it’s not a good time to take masks off.

What do you say to parents who aren’t ready to get their elementary-school kid vaccinated yet?

KT: I think that’s fine. The caveat is, as long as your kid remains unvaccinated they are at risk of getting COVID. If they are in contact with someone who has COVID in the classroom, they will have to quarantine. And if you are planning on seeing grandparents who are older or have diseases, one way to protect those grandparents is to make sure everyone eligible for the vaccine is vaccinated.

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Headhunting in LAUSD; a critical race headache in O.C.

If you have a child in L.A. Unified, you have a stake in whom the school board picks as the next superintendent. The board is keeping mum about those it’s considering. But my colleague Howard Blume reports that there are plenty of potential candidates. They are thought to include interim Supt. Megan Reilly; Chief Academic Officer Alison Yoshimoto-Towery; regional LAUSD administrator Frances Baez; Joan Sullivan, chief executive of the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which manages 19 schools on behalf of the district; and several others, including Miami-Dade County schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Watch this space (and Howard’s reporting) for more.

As just about everybody knows by now, critical race theory is an academic discipline that has improbably entered public debate as a sort of litmus test for conservatives worried that their children are being taught a negative view of the United States, especially its troubled history around race. The latest school system to be roiled by the debate is Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified in Orange County, a school district that has struggled mightily to decide whether to ban critical race theory. Times reporter Hayley Smith has been following the issue, and wrote about it last week.

What else we’re reading

Our colleagues in San Diego have put together a presentation about 20 local women who have made their mark on education — pioneers such as Myrra Lenore Lee, the National Teacher of the Year in 1977, who fought to establish courses called “Minorities in American History” and “Woman in America”; and Bertha Ousley Pendleton, the first woman and first Black school superintendent in San Diego. San Diego Union-Tribune

The Redlands Unified School District says it has put a virtual stop to teacher sex abuse with a new set of policies that include better teacher training, stricter reporting policies and awareness campaigns. San Bernardino Sun

Hamburgers and chicken patties in L.A. school cafeterias are among the casualties of the supply chain backup. (Is that a bad thing or a good thing? You decide.) L.A. Daily News

Children who are exposed to math in their preschool years build foundations that pay off later — even more than early exposure to reading, experts say. EdSource

I want to hear from you.

Have feedback? Ideas? Questions? Story tips? Email Laura Newberry. And keep in touch on Twitter.