MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After much debate, a key Food and Drug Administration panel recommended emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 years old.

Dr. Sandy Arnold, the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, called it a critical step in the fight against COVID-19.

“We need to get this virus under control and in order to do that we have to have a substantial portion of the population and that includes younger children,” Arnold said.

Dr. Arnold said unvaccinated children with COVID-19 can develop a serious complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, as well as an inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis.

“Over 500 children have died of COVID-19, and countless more have been hospitalized and had MIS-C and have long COVID symptoms, and people don’t want any part of that for their children,” Arnold said.

Still, many parents have questions about the safety of COVID vaccines.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist at Baptist Hospital, said getting shots into the arms of kids could have a bigger impact on saving and protecting the lives of older family members.

“A kid may or may not get as sick from this. On average they get less sick, but they certainly can pass it to grandparents who might be much more at risk for severe disease as well. So, it’s one more avenue we can see by vaccinating our younger population,” Threlkeld said.

If the FDA decides to okay the vaccine for that age group, the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee will meet to consider whether it should be approved.