With the holidays around the corner, local doctors feel the vaccine would allow families to celebrate safely.By Chris Hoffman

WASHINGTON (AP/KDKA) — 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.

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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.

Locally, doctors called it a win. They said it’s one of the last hurdles in getting back to normal.

“We looked at this very carefully and we focus a ton on maximizing safety and I feel this could be a big tool in protecting our children,” UPMC Children’s Hospital Clinical Director of Infectious Disease Dr. Andrew Nowalk said.

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According to Dr. Nowalk, there are 28 million children who fit in this category. Across the country, 5- to 11-year-olds have the most cases per capita of any age range.

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“Schools having difficulty with closures, kids missing school a ton. With the different policies, it’s been hard on parents a ton,” Dr. Nowalk said over Zoom.

The Pfizer vaccine would still be two shots, but only one-third the dose of an adult shot. System Chair of Pediatrics for Allegheny Health Network Dr. Joe Aracri said children have stronger immune responses than adults.

“In getting that vaccine, they mounted such a good immune response that they needed less of a dose of the vaccine. It still seemed to be greater than 90% effective in that group,” he said.

With the holidays around the corner, both doctors feel the vaccine would allow families to celebrate safely.

“We are able with this vaccine for this age group to go into the holidays safer than we’ve ever been,” Dr. Nowalk said.

Dr. Nowalk said Children’s Hospital has the supply and could start administering shots as soon as it gets the green light. Dr. Aracri said AHN would need about a week to get the proper vials of shots.

The dose for young children is just one-third of the Pfizer shot already recommended for everyone 12 and older. Moderna also is studying its vaccine for young children.

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