By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — COVID-19 vaccines could soon be available for children under 5 years old. Late Wednesday afternoon, an FDA advisory panel cleared both Moderna and Pfizer shots for young children.

After the FDA weighs in, a final decision on vaccines for the little ones will come from the CDC. That’s also expected soon, which means those shots could be available as early as next week.

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About 20 million children younger than 5 are the only age group not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna are seeking emergency use authorization on their shots for that youngest age group.

“This population of children has been awaiting vaccine really to both reduce disease in general, but most importantly, to reduce the chance of needing to be hospitalized,” Dr. Lori Handy said.

Handy, director of infection prevention at CHOP, says research has shown both vaccines are safe and effective for children as young as 6 months.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Handy said.

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The CDC says more than 440 children ages 4 and under have died from COVID during the pandemic and hospitalizations among that age group have risen during the omicron surge.

“We have to be careful that we do not become numb to the number of pediatric deaths because of the overwhelming number of older deaths,” Dr. Peter Marks Director, FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said.

Pfizer says its three shot series is 80% effective in preventing symptomatic infections in young children.

Two doses of Moderna appeared strong enough to prevent severe infections but only 40% to 50% percent effective at preventing mild infections. The drugmaker has added a booster to its study.

“This gives kids the opportunity to really fully go back to living their lives,” Handy said.

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Vaccine side effects in children include fever and fatigue, and were generally minor and less common than seen in adults.

Stephanie Stahl