A Japanese health ministry panel on Monday approved Moderna Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 to 17, clearing the way for it to become the second shot available to adolescents in the country after the one developed by Pfizer Inc.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is expected to decide at a later date to provide the Moderna vaccine free of charge to the age group as part of the government's nationwide vaccination program.

Photo taken May 24, 2021, shows a syringe being filled with COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. in Sendai, northeastern Japan. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Among the more than 3,700 subjects aged 12 to 17 who took part in clinical trials in the United States, none developed signs of COVID-19 within 14 days of receiving a second dose, while four in a group that was given placebos showed symptoms.

The U.S. biotechnology firm has also filed with drug authorities in the United States, Canada and the European Union for use of the vaccine in adolescents.

Japan is administering the Moderna vaccine, to which it granted emergency approval for people aged 18 and older in May, at vaccinations centers run by the Self-Defense Forces in Tokyo and Osaka, as well as large sites set up by local governments, companies and universities.

But the minister in charge of vaccination efforts, Taro Kono, has warned that supply is struggling to keep up with demand, making it unclear when adolescents will be able to receive shots.

The health ministry panel also approved the use of casirivimab and imdevimab for an "antibody cocktail" developed by U.S. firm Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and famously used to treat then U.S. President Donald Trump for COVID-19.

Clinical trials showed the treatment, marketed as REGEN-COV, lowered the risk of hospitalization or death by about 70 percent.