A Japanese health ministry panel approved Thursday the administration of Pfizer Inc.'s coronavirus vaccine to children aged 5 to 11, making it the first in Japan to be available for the age group.

Around 7 million children will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from March at the earliest once it is granted special approval by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The U.S. pharmaceutical giant and its German partner BioNTech SE applied last November for Japanese government approval to inoculate children aged 5 to 11 with their jointly developed vaccine.

Their vaccine is currently available only to people aged 12 and older in Japan.

Experts have been divided on the necessity of vaccinating young children as they are unlikely to develop serious symptoms even if infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A vaccine panel of the health ministry is debating whether to urge children aged 5 to 11 to be inoculated as it urges those aged 12 and above who are not pregnant.

According to the ministry, vaccine doses for children in the age group will use one-third of an adult dose. The vaccine specifically made for children will be used despite the active ingredients being the same.

Data from clinical trials conducted by Pfizer in the United States and other countries show that administration of the vaccine was 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in children aged 5 to 11.

The trials also showed that while the subjects experienced sore arms, fatigue and headaches the next day, the side effects disappeared quickly and there were no safety issues.

With daily infections surging in Japan due to the Omicron variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said earlier this month that inoculations for those under 12 would be rolled out as soon as possible.

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