COVID-19: What to Do When Family Members Are Unvaccinated

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on October 26, 2022
3 min read

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Vaccines for COVID-19 not only lessen the risk of getting sick from the virus, but also of spreading it to others.

But for some people, like young babies and people with weaker immune systems, the vaccine might not be an option.

So besides getting vaccinated, what are some good ways to keep everyone in your family safe?

Any family member who isn’t fully vaccinated for any reason should continue to take steps to protect themselves and others. That means wear a well-fitting mask and stay 6 feet away from others in public.

Make sure your unvaccinated child wears a mask in public (as long as they’re at least 2 years old). To set a good example, and to further protect yourself and others, it may help to wear one yourself, even if you’re fully vaccinated.

If a child can’t wear a mask because they’re younger than 2 or for some other reason, it may be better to avoid visiting people who aren’t vaccinated or places where others’ vaccine status is unclear.

This goes for any public indoor space. In general, you don’t need to wear a mask outside if there aren’t a lot of people around. But you may want to if you’re in a crowd or if you’re unsure whether or not the people around you are vaccinated.

Different families are willing to take different levels of risk. You may decide to allow your child to play with other kids away from home in certain situations. Even then, there are precautions you can take. For example, if you let your child socialize without a mask at another home, you might check with the parents to make sure no one there is sick and that all the adults and older kids are fully vaccinated.

If you or a family member haven’t yet received the vaccine, it’s clearly safer to be in a house full of vaccinated people. Still, even though they’re less likely to get infected and seriously ill from COVID-19, people who’ve received the full prescribed vaccine dose can still carry and transmit the virus.

Likewise, an unvaccinated person who gets infected could pass the virus to a vaccinated person. It’s rare, but sometimes the vaccine doesn’t work like it should. This could lead to serious illness. In addition, even people who are fully vaccinated may not be protected from the virus if they take certain medications or have a seriously weakened immune system.

That means if you or a loved one is unvaccinated, especially because of health issues like a weakened immune system, you should still take basic precautions that might include masks, social distancing, and handwashing.

Keep in mind that in public places, there’s no way to know for sure who’s vaccinated and who isn’t. Public transportation poses a particularly high risk. While masks are no longer required on buses, planes, and trains, you may want to continue to wear one for your own safety. 

In addition, if you’re traveling far for work, family, or vacation, you may want to check transmission rates at your destination. They could be higher than at home so you might need to take further precautions.

Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance where possible can help slow the spread of the virus in your community at large as well as at home. Doing so helps protect your own family along with unvaccinated neighbors, friends, and co-workers as well.

Once enough people get the vaccine, the risk to everyone will go down and we’ll all be able to socialize more normally.