COVID Halloween: How to protect little trick-or-treaters who are unvaccinated

Halloween is safer this year but not for everyone. Dr. Michael Wilkes says trick-or-treating children are still vulnerable to the coronavirus as they are not yet vaccinated. Photo by Shutterstock.

Parents may have better peace of mind this year as they are set to take their children door to door for trick-or-treating. Health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, are assuring the fall tradition can resume as long as it’s done outdoors along with masking. 

Dr. Michael Wilkes also says that while it’s safer this year to celebrate Halloween, California is not out of the woods largely because children are yet to be immunized against the coronavirus.

In LA County, 40% of the 10.3 million residents are not fully vaccinated, as 1.3 million children under age 12 are yet eligible for vaccines. 

Dr. Wilkes shares his prescriptions for a safe Halloween celebration.

KCRW: Is it safe to go trick-or-treating this year, especially outdoors?

Wilkes: Yes, it reduces the risk of transmission substantially, but doesn't make it go to zero. 

For those with little people who are worried about their safety, I would suggest they stick with their own group and avoid large crowds that tend to cluster around the candy. 

If you're going to an indoor party, please make sure that everyone, including your kids, you and the hosts, is all wearing a mask. 

And do remember that COVID isn't the only risk out there. Please be careful with cars, wear reflective clothing, and stay on sidewalks.

How can adults give away the treats while taking extra precautions?

Because adults are at much higher risk of having something bad happen, those who are giving out treats should wear a mask, particularly if they're going to be opening their door and exposing themselves to little people. 

And for those who are immune-compromised or perhaps older with a chronic disease, they might want to consider not engaging in Halloween festivities, at least for this year. 

If you must, and you're really a kid at heart, place the candy somewhere outside where the trick-or-treaters won't need to get within six feet of you.

Is it safe for children to touch wrapped candy they get from trick-or-treating?

The good news is that COVID does not live very long on most surfaces. 

Bring hand sanitizer with you, and don't eat anything until you get home and can inspect the candy. That's obviously for things beside COVID. 

Everybody who's out there is touching doorbells and handles and things, so wash your hands when you get home. 

But the risk of infection from eating wrapped candy is very, very small.

FDA advisors are meeting this week to review data on Pfizer's COVID vaccines for children between ages 5-11. Are we ready to start immunizing children?  

We expect full approval from the FDA so that people 5 to 11 will start receiving their COVID vaccines by the holidays. They will still need two vaccines three weeks apart. And the dose is a little bit smaller. It's about a third the amount that adults are getting. 

And company reports say that Pfizer vaccine at least is safe and effective, just as effective as adult doses. But remember, these are industry reports, done by the drug company itself. Their studies are small. 

I don't doubt at all their effectiveness. But safety is a little bit more concerning. We just don't have the full picture yet of how safe these vaccines are going to be for millions and millions of people.

Is there any reason why parents should hold off on vaccines for their kids? 

As a public health person, I think it's worth everybody getting immunized. While COVID certainly causes far less death in kids, we still are looking at well over 600 kids who've died from COVID. 

But wearing a hat as a parent, I probably would not be at the front of the queue. I would wait till the middle of the queue, wait for people to get immunized and say, “Let's see what happens.” 

Again, it looks like it's very effective and safe, but the numbers tested are just too small to make any pronouncements yet.