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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries should take account of global shortages of COVID-19 vaccines before rolling out shots for adolescents, the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Tuesday.
Last week, the EU drugs regulator authorised Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12. Its previous guidance was for adults aged 16 and above.
The ECDC - echoing World Health Organization (WHO) calls to delay inoculations of young adults in rich nations - said in a report that vaccinating adolescents should be a priority only when they are at high risk of developing serious coronavirus symptoms.
The ECDC has an advisory role within Europe on vaccine rollouts, which are run by national governments.
Studies show most under-20s who catch COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, but risks increase among those with underlying conditions such as neurological and pulmonary diseases, the ECDC said.
When deciding whether vaccinating low-risk teenagers, "the wider context of a global vaccine supply shortage should also be taken into account," the ECDC said, noting that healthcare workers and the most vulnerable had yet to be vaccinated in many poorer nations.
Nearly half of adults have received at least a first dose in the EU, and 20% have been fully immunised while, according to WHO data, by mid-May only 1% of vaccines administered globally had been injected in Africa.
COVAX, a mechanism co-led by the WHO to distribute vaccines across the world, has so far shipped less than 80 million shots to more than 120 countries with a combined population of billions, and many of which depend exclusively on COVAX to access shots.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by John Stonestreet)