An expert panel on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to recommend the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorise the Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, saying the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.
An authorisation for that age group would be would be an important regulatory step toward reaching about 28 million children for inoculation, most of them back in school for in-person learning.
The vaccine could be available to the younger age group as soon as next week. The FDA is not obligated to follow the advice of its outside experts, but usually does. The vote was 17 in favour with one abstention.
If the FDA authorises the shots for this age group, an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet next week to make a recommendation on the administration of the vaccine. The CDC director will make the final call.
While children becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19 is relatively rare compared with adults, some develop complications, and infections in unvaccinated kids have risen due to the easily transmitted Delta variant of the coronavirus. Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that more than 500 U.S. children have died from Covid-19.
It "is the eighth highest killer of kids in this age group over the past year," said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a pediatric vaccine expert at the CDC and a voting member of the panel. "Use of this vaccine will prevent deaths, will prevent ICU admissions and will prevent significant long-term adverse outcomes in children."
Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared Covid-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger.
In the United States, just 57% of the population is fully vaccinated, lagging other nations such as the UK and France.
Still, the percentage of young children who receive the shots may be low. The U.S. vaccination rate for 12- to 15-year-olds trails other age groups at roughly 47%.
The World Health Organization since May has been urging rich countries to reconsider plans to vaccinate children and instead donate Covid-19 shots to the COVAX program for distribution to poorer countries.
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