The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12-15 year olds – the first vaccine authorized for this age group in the block.
Member states must now decide whether they will give the jab to children. German leaders gave the green light on Thursday.
Friday’s announcement came as the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe needs to speed up the rollout of its vaccines.
WHO director for Europe, Hans Kluge, has warned that the pandemic will not be over until at least 70% of the population are vaccinated.
What is the EMA evidence on childhood immunization?
Marco Cavaleri, EMA’s vaccine strategy manager, said the 12-15 age group would need two doses with an interval of at least three weeks.
He said trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine to be “highly preventive” for Covid-19 in children.
“From a safety point of view, the vaccine was well tolerated and the side effects in this age group were very similar to what we have seen in young adults and did not raise major concerns at this time,” he added.
The EU has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 16 and over.
German federal and state leaders agreed on Thursday that children over 12 could start receiving Covid injections from June 7.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the vaccine would not be mandatory for adolescents and a survey suggested that only 51% of parents wanted their children to receive the vaccine.
Florian Hoffmann, head of the German Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine, said adults should be given priority “because they have a much higher risk of contracting a severe course of the virus which could see them end up in intensive care. “.
Why is WHO concerned?
Earlier on Friday, Hans Kluge of the WHO warned that the vaccine rollout across Europe was still “too slow”.
“The pandemic will be over once we reach 70% minimum vaccination coverage,” he told AFP news agency.
Mr Kluge said he remained concerned about the increased contagiousness of the new variants, adding that speed was essential.
“We know, for example, that B.1617 (Indian variant) is more transmissible than B.117 (British or Kent variant), which was already more transmissible than the previous strain,” he said.
“Our best friend is speed, time is against us. We need to speed up, we need to increase the number of vaccines. ”
France will open vaccination to anyone over the age of 18 from May 31, the government said. So far, only adults aged 50 and over have been eligible.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit a few days later, calling it “an important step in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic”.