Photo/Illutration Vaccines designed for children aged 5 to 11. This photo was taken in November 2021 in the United States. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The health ministry announced on Jan. 21 that it has approved the domestic manufacture and sale of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine designed for children aged 5 to 11.

A subcommittee of health experts concluded the previous day that there are no problems with the efficacy or safety of the vaccine for use in children.

The government is expected to pick up the tab for the inoculations, which could start as early as March.

This is the first time Japan has approved use of a COVID-19 vaccine for children 11 or younger.

The vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 is a different drug from the one designed for those 12 and up, with the amount of active ingredient a third the level of the dose given to adults.

Children will receive two vaccine jabs with a period of three weeks between doses.

An estimated 7 million to 8 million children will be eligible.

There is not enough data available yet to show how effective the Pfizer vaccine for younger children is against the Omicron variant.

But health experts are concerned that if the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to soar, the ratio of infections of unvaccinated children will rise, leading to moderate and severe cases among them.

“Experts expressed the opinion that younger children benefit from using such a vaccine because they are also at risk of developing serious symptoms,” said Yasunori Yoshida, director of the health ministry’s pharmaceutical evaluation division.

Other health experts will hold a panel meeting on Jan. 26 to discuss how strongly the government should urge parents and guardians to get their children vaccinated.

If the government strongly recommends vaccinating young children, it will be easier for local municipal governments to promote inoculations.

But some experts think a stronger recommendation is not that necessary because children are much less likely to develop severe symptoms.

According to the health ministry, the vaccine for children had been approved for use in 15 countries and regions, including the United States, Israel and Germany, as of Dec. 8, 2021.