By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean panel of experts said Friday that vaccines for the novel coronavirus developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. are eligible for youths, as health authorities prepare to roll out the first shots of the vaccine over the weekend.
The advisory board consisting of outside experts and officials of the country's drug safety agency announced its review on the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer vaccines.
The panel's review is the second step of three separate independent evaluations before the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety gives the final approval.
The panel advised the ministry to approve Pfizer's two full-dose regimen, saying it showed a more than 95 percent efficacy rate, including those aged between 16 and 17, and elders aged 65 and older.
Despite the panel's decision, it is unclear whether the youths are eligible to receive Pfizer vaccines as local health authorities exclude inoculating people aged under 18.
Health authorities are expected to decide whether to use Pfizer products on younger people after the ministry announces the final approval.
Starting Saturday, the first group of some 55,000 medical workers at hospitals for virus patients will receive Pfizer vaccines, which are part of the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project.
The first group includes 300 doctors, nurses and other health professionals treating COVID-19 patients in the greater Seoul area, who will receive the first jab of Pfizer vaccines at a state-run vaccination facility as the products require ultra-cold temperatures.
Health authorities plan to complete inoculations with the first batch of Pfizer products by March 20.
The ministry also said it has not yet reviewed whether to allow storing the Pfizer vaccine at higher temperatures for two weeks, citing that further data is needed for the review.
Earlier, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will allow Pfizer vaccines to be transported and stored for up to two weeks at conventional freezer temperatures instead of the ultra-cold conditions.
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