COVID-19 vaccines for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in the US moved a step closer on Wednesday after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)‘s panel of advisors gave their backing for Moderna and Pfizer shots under the age of five.

The panel of outside experts voted unanimously in favour of vaccines of children under five, on the grounds that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

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“This is a long-awaited vaccine. There are so many parents who are absolutely desperate to get this vaccine and I think we owe it to them to give them a choice to have the vaccine if they want to,” said panel member Dr Jay Portnoy of Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

If the FDA agrees with its panel of advisors, it would be one more step towards the authorisation of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of five.

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If the FDA approves the Pfizer and Moderna shots, the decision on whether to authorise thir use would be taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC, like the FDA, has its own panel of experts reviewing the evidence, and the panel goes to vote on Saturday. If the panel approves vaccines for children under five and the CDC agrees, shots for children will be available as early as Monday.

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While Pfizer‘s vaccine is from children aged six months to four years, Moderna‘s shot is for children from six months to five years.

Although not as lethal as in adults, COVID-19 still poses risks for the very young: thus far, 442 children under the age of four in the US have died during the pandemic and hospitalisations among this age group increased during the omicron wave.