The UK health authorities began rolling out their winter vaccine schedule for the most medically vulnerable on Monday, brought forward from a planned early October rollout amid concerns around the new COVID variant BA.2.86.
The National Health Service (NHS) said residents of older adult care homes and people who are housebound will begin receiving their COVID and flu vaccinations from this week and other high risk groups will begin to be invited to get their “top up protection” ahead of winter from next week.
While the variant, BA.2.86, has not been classified as a “variant of concern” by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), it is being monitored closely due to its proclivity to mutate.
“While BA.2.86 has a significant number of mutations to the viral genome compared to other currently circulating COVID-19 variants, the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the transmissibility, severity or immune escape properties of the virus,” said Dr Renu Bindra, an Indian-origin Incident Director for the UKHSA.
“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this. In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them,” she said.
NHS England said it is rolling out its adult COVID and annual flu vaccination programmes in tandem following pressures it faced with a “twindemic” of flu and COVID resulting in high occupancy in hospitals and record pressure on staff last year. It stressed the importance for those who are eligible to top up their protection, even if they have had a vaccine or been ill with flu or COVID-19 before, as immunity wanes over time and the viruses change each year.
“With concerns arising over new COVID variants, it’s vital we adapt the programme and bring it forward for those most at risk, and so I strongly urge everyone eligible to come forward as soon as they can for this important protection in colder months,” said Steve Russell, NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening.
“Older people and those in clinical risk groups remain at highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19…The vaccine continues to provide the best protection against serious illness and hospitalisation from COVID-19, so please make sure you get vaccinated when offered and encourage loved ones who are eligible to do the same,” added Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA.
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