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Bahrain gives emergency approval to Pfizer coronavirus shots for kids 5-11

Gulf state set to receive shipments of vaccine from start of 2022; nation has already authorized use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine for young children

Illustrative -- A girl receives a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a health center in Phnom Penh on November 1, 2021 (TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)
Illustrative -- A girl receives a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a health center in Phnom Penh on November 1, 2021 (TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

Bahrain has granted emergency approval for the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to inoculate children ages 5-11.

The government of the Gulf state said Sunday it will be supplied with children-sized doses of the vaccine from the start of 2022, Reuters reported.

Last week Bahrain approved the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine for children aged between 3 and 11.

The US Food and Drug Administration cleared kid-sized doses of the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use last week. Children will get just a third of the amount given to teens and adults, and up to 28 million more American children could be eligible for vaccinations as early as this week.

On Tuesday, advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are set to make more detailed recommendations on which youngsters should get vaccinated, with a decision by the agency’s director expected shortly afterwards — the final regulatory hurdle for the US.

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 vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are watching the US decision, and European regulators just began considering the companies’ kid-size doses.

Syringes loaded with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine lie ready for use by a nurse, in Jackson, Mississippi., on Sept. 21, 2021. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Israel, which generally follows authorizations from the FDA, is also expected to swiftly roll out vaccines for kids aged 5 to 11. On Friday, the Health Ministry said the Israel Center for Disease Control would hold a panel discussion on COVID-19 vaccinations for the younger set on November 4, partially open to the public for the first time.

With FDA action, Pfizer plans to begin shipping millions of vials of the pediatric vaccine — in orange caps to avoid mix-ups with the purple-capped doses for everyone else — to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other vaccination sites. Kids will get two shots, three weeks apart.

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that Pfizer’s mini doses are expected to reach Israel by November 15. Israel was among the first countries to get the regular doses of the shot when it was rolled out late last year.

While children are at lower risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have been seriously affected — including over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FDA.

Last week, the FDA’s independent scientific advisers voted that the pediatric vaccine’s promised benefits outweigh any risks. But several panelists said not all youngsters will need to be vaccinated, and that they preferred the shots be targeted to those at higher risk from the virus.

Nearly 70% of 5- to 11-year-olds hospitalized for COVID-19 in the US have other serious medical conditions, including asthma and obesity, according to federal tracking. Additionally, more than two-thirds of youngsters hospitalized are Black or Hispanic, mirroring long-standing disparities in the disease’s impact.

The question of how broadly Pfizer’s vaccine should be used will be a key consideration for the CDC and its advisers, who set formal recommendations for pediatricians and other medical professionals.

A Pfizer study of 2,268 schoolchildren found the vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, based on 16 cases of COVID-19 among kids given dummy shots compared to just three who got vaccinated.

Finley Martin, 14, gets a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena on May 14, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The kid dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary reactions — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience.

But the study wasn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second full-strength dose, mostly in young men and teen boys. It’s unclear if younger children getting a smaller dose also will face that rare risk.

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