All adults in my family are already vaccinated. But I also have two kids, age 6 and 3, who are not. The older one needs to wait a few months until the child vaccine is approved. The younger one will probably have to wait more than a year, because as far as I know the child COVID vaccines are only planned for kids 5 years or older.

How much should I be afraid until my kids get vaccinated? How much precaution is reasonable?

Most online debates about "kids and COVID" focus on the fact that the kids have a very small chance to die from COVID. There are numbers and pictures showing that an unvaccinated X years old child actually has a smaller chance of dying than a vaccinated Y years old adult. Okay, I got the memo.

But the number of people who end up in hospital and don't die is much larger than the number of people who die, right? My friends had their child for one month in a hospital, for COVID-related reasons, and although the child seems perfectly healthy now, I'd prefer to avoid this kind of experience, too. How high is the probability of "kid ends up in hospital (but survives)"? I don't have good data here: some people keep sending me articles about crowded child hospitals, other people insist that those were children with preexisting medical problems so this doesn't apply to my kids who seem average health-wise.

Plus there is the question of Long COVID. Kids on average have more years of life ahead of them, so even if the chance of a problem is smaller, if it is a permanent damage, you need to multiply it by a greater number to get the total harm. Here the data is even noisier, I guess. First, given that we only know COVID for two years (and it keeps mutating), it is hard to estimate whether the damage is actually permanent, or how long it takes. Second, the symptoms of Long COVID are various, and they happen with other diseases too, so I guess in all studies you also have people with symptoms of "Long COVID" who actually never had COVID. So, what is the actual risk distribution here, for kids?

I assume that when kids sit all day long in a classroom, it doesn't make much difference whether they wear masks on not; ultimately they are breathing the same air for hours in a badly ventilated room. Plus they remove the masks in the canteen, or when eating snack. What are the expected consequences of exposing my children to this situation, as opposed to keeping them at home until the vaccine is ready?

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Thanks, I forgot about it. Looking at the conclusions:

So, conditional on a kid catching COVID, I guess I'm currently thinking that I should mainly be weighing a ~2% chance of a miserable months-long ordeal until they recover, plus (overlapping) ~1% chance of a big-deal long-term latent problem that will show up later in life.

Considering that in the previous wave, about 8% of population in my country got COVID, and that this wave starts a bit faster and there is more political resistance against closing schools or any other inconvenience, I would estimate the chance of getting COVID at school as 10-20%. That would translate to cca 0.1% chance of big health problems. (Divide by two for the older kid, assuming the vaccine is available in winter.)

That is... still enough to make me feel uncomfortable. I wonder if it is perhaps wrong calibration; what other child activities have 0.1% chance of big health problems?

You should consider how healthy and fit your kids are. All stats that we see now consider the whole population and there are probably sub-populations (of children) that have significantly worse health than average and these will dominate the number suffering from Covid and long Covid. If your kids are fit i.e. handle most other infectious diseases without problems (or even have few visible ones, to begin with) you can probably divide the number by 10 or more. 

For context: I have four boys ages 10 to 17 and got all of them vaccinated except for the youngest.