A girl receives a dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a health centre in Phnom Penh on November 1, 2021, as Cambodia begins vaccinating children from aged five and older. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

A top US health agency granted final approval on Tuesday to Pfizer-BioNTech’s paediatric vaccine against Covid-19 for 5 to 11 years old, clearing the way for inoculating 28 million children starting “as soon as possible”.

President Joe Biden called Pfizer’s approval by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention  a “turning point’ in the battle against Covid-19, saying, “It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.”

Distribution of the paediatric vaccine has already begun and plans afoot to scale up to full capacity starting on November 8, CDC said, adding that vaccines will be available at multiple locations, including paediatric health care provider offices, pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers .

 Vaccine side effects were mild, self-limiting, and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children, CDC said. The most common side effect was a sore arm.

Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine was nearly 91% effective in preventing Covid-19 among children aged 5-11 years in clinical trials, same as for the vaccine from  adults and adolescents.

The US Food and Drug Administration  had cleared the paediatric vaccine earlier. It’s the same Pfizer vaccine but the dosage is a third of what is administered to adults and teens.

two shots three weeks apart, but using a smaller needle Covid-19 cases among children are known to result in hospitalizations, deaths, MIS-C  and long-term complications, such as “long Covid,” in which symptoms can linger for months, the CDC has said.

A few countries have begun using other Covid-19 vaccines in children under 12, including China, which just began vaccinations for 3-year-olds. But many that use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are watching the US decision, and European regulators just began considering the companies’ kid-size doses.

The spread of the more transmissible Delta variant during past summer led to a surge in in Covid-19 cases in children. The CDC said that during a six-week period in late June to mid-August, Covid-19 cases among children spiked five fold.

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