The United States is ready to start vaccinating children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 starting next month, the White House said Wednesday, a move that will make 28 million more Americans eligible for shots.

“Our planning efforts mean that we will be ready to begin getting shots in arms in the days following a final CDC recommendation,” the White House said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drugmaker Pfizer applied for authorisation in this age group earlier this month, and the question is set to be debated by two expert panels. 

The first, convened by the Food and Drug Administration, will meet next week, and the second, convened by the CDC, will meet November 2-3, with the agency expected to make its recommendation soon thereafter.

During a clinical trial, children in the five to 11 age group received a two-dose regimen of 10 micrograms, compared with 30 micrograms for older age groups. The shots were given 21 days apart.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been granted full FDA approval for those aged 16 and up, and the FDA in May authorised its emergency use in children aged 12 to 15.

Experts say vaccinating children is essential to helping achieve population immunity against the disease.

While younger children are less likely to develop severe cases, they can still become sick and transmit the virus to the general population.

Vaccine confidence in the United States has risen in recent months. 

As of Wednesday, 77.1 per cent of the currently eligible population aged 12 and up had received one or more doses of COVID vaccine.

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