Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday unanimously supported broad use of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11, with shots potentially going into young arms as soon as Wednesday.
They said the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of the vaccine. Much of their discussion stemmed from rare cases of heart inflammation that have been linked to the vaccine, particularly young men.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky must sign off on recommendations before the United States can begin administering the vaccine to children in the age group. The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization of the vaccine in 5-11 year olds on Friday.
The FDA authorized a 10-microgram dose of Pfizer's vaccine in young children. The original shot given to those age 12 and older is 30 micrograms.
At the outset of the meeting Walensky said that pediatric hospitalizations had surged during the recent wave driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The risk from COVID-19 "is too high and too devastating to our children and far higher than for many other diseases for which we vaccinate children," she said.
Walensky said school closures have had detrimental social and mental health impacts on children.
"Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that," she said.
The US government and Pfizer have already begun distributing the vaccine in preparation for a widespread rollout for children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning.
Earlier this week, the White House said the United States has enough supply of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for all 28 million children aged 5 to 11. While some children may be able to get their first shots as soon as Wednesday, the plans is for the U.S. pediatric vaccine program to be running at full strength by next week, a Biden administration official said.
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.
(Reporting by Michael Erman in New Jersey, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Manas Mishra, Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot)