WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel of U.S. health advisers on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, moving the U.S. closer to beginning vaccinations in children ages 5 to 11.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks — including a heart-related side effect that’s been very rare in teens and young adults who get a much higher dose.

The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision within days.

If the FDA authorizes the kid-size doses, there’s still another step: Next week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.

While children are at lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have faced substantial illness ― including over 8,300 hospitalizations reported, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths.

Only one-third is required for children younger than 12 years old. Moderna is also studying the vaccine for young children.

This is a BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be getting closer as government advisers on Tuesday began deliberating whether there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and effective for 5- to 11-year-olds.

A study of elementary schoolchildren found the Pfizer shots are nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection ― even though the youngsters received just a third of the dose given to teens and adults.

In a preliminary analysis last week, Food and Drug Administration reviewers said that protection would “clearly outweigh” the risk of a very rare side effect in almost all scenarios of the pandemic. Now FDA’s advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.

If the FDA authorizes the kid-size doses, there’s still another step: Next week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.

While children are at lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have faced substantial illness ― including over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths, FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told the advisory panel.

Also, “infections have caused many school closures and disrupted the education and socialization of children,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge the fact that there are strong feelings” among the public for and against child vaccinations, Marks added, noting that the discussion would be on scientific data “not about vaccine mandates, which are left to other entities outside of FDA.”

Pfizer and BioNTech have already made full-strength shots available for anyone 12 or older. But many parents, pediatricians and other caregivers are calling for coverage for children younger than 12. The extra-contagious delta variant has caused an alarming rise in pediatric infections ― and families are frustrated with school quarantines and having to say no to sleepovers and other rites of childhood to keep the virus at bay.

States are getting ready to roll out shots for little arms ― in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine ― as soon as the government gives the OK. More than 25,000 pediatricians and other primary care providers have signed up so far to offer vaccination.

Pfizer’s study tracked 2,268 children ages 5 to 11 who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the kid dose. The virus-fighting antibodies developed in vaccinated children were just as powerful as those of teens or young adults who received full-strength shots.

The vaccine has been nearly 91% effective so far. 16 children who were given dummy shots have developed symptoms of COVID-19, compared with three children who had been vaccinated. The majority of study data was collected during the peak period for the Delta variant, which occurred in August and September.

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience. At FDA’s request, Pfizer more recently enrolled another 2,300 youngsters into the study, and preliminary safety data has shown no red flags.

The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men and teen boys.

The FDA’s panel of independent experts will weigh whether Pfizer’s shot is likely to prevent more COVID-19 hospitalizations in young kids than might be caused by that rare side effect.

Based on FDA data, it was determined that the vaccine could prevent approximately 200 to 250 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the most likely scenario of a continuing pandemic. It would also reduce heart inflammation hospitalizations by about 58. Pfizer anticipates that side effects will not be as high in children receiving the dose for kids.

Moderna is also studying the effects of its vaccine on young children.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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