Portugal recommends COVID-19 vaccine for 5-11 year olds

Healthcare worker prepares COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Seixal

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's health authority DGS gave the green light on Tuesday for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11.

A total of 637,907 children in Portugal are eligible to receive the shot, and DGS said priority would be given to those with pre-existing health conditions. The first batch of vaccines for children arrives on Monday.

The DGS decision, which was widely expected, came after the EU's drug regulator EMA took the same step on Nov. 25, saying the vaccine should be given as an injection in the upper arm in two 10 microgram doses, three weeks apart.

"I hope there is a great deal of support from children's parents because we are talking about children without the autonomy to decide," health secretary Antonio Sales said. "It is safe and efficient."

Although Portugal has one of the world's highest COVID-19 vaccination rates, with 87% of its population fully inoculated, a surge in infections and the emergence of the Omicron variant forced authorities to reimpose some restrictions.

There are 37 Omicron cases in the country, with the national public health institute saying there might "residual" community transmission of the variant.

The country of just over 10 million reported on Saturday 5,649 new infections, the highest daily jump since the beginning of February, when it faced its toughest battle against the virus.

Deaths and hospitalisations, however, remain far below levels seen during that period.

(Reporting by Patrícia Vicente Rua; Editing by Catarina Demony and Angus MacSwan)