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Autumn Covid jabs to kick off next week amid Pirola variant concerns

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The National Health Service will begin its autumn Covid vaccine program next week, a month earlier than planned in response to the spread of a new variant dubbed Pirola. Covid vaccines will be administered to care home residents and housebound individuals from Monday onwards, while over-65s and other vulnerable groups will receive their appointments the week after.

On Aug. 30, NHS England shifted the autumn vaccination drive to start on September 11 in response to the new Covid-19 variant, BA.2.86, detected on August 18.

The primary groups can book through a national system upon receiving an invitation from the NHS. Some people may get an earlier call from their GP, and a few have already scheduled Covid vaccinations alongside their flu jabs.

The NHS will begin inviting other eligible groups from Sept. 18. However, it is important to note that not everyone will receive a call at the same time. These groups will include individuals aged 65 and over, those aged six months to 64 years in a clinical risk category, frontline health and social care workers, and individuals aged 12 to 64 who are carers or household contacts of those with immunosuppression.

Variant concerns

Surveillance data suggests Covid-19 variant BA.2.86 is spreading in the UK. The Pirola variant raises concern among scientists due to its numerous mutations, potentially leading to easier evasion of the immune system or increased transmissibility.

In a Friday briefing note, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported an outbreak at a care home in Norfolk and additional cases across the UK. This suggests possible community transmission of the strain. However, it’s still too early to determine the full extent of its spread.

As of September 4, 2023, England recorded 34 confirmed cases of BA.2.86. Among them, five individuals have been hospitalised, and there have been no reported COVID-19 related deaths in these cases, the UKHSA said.

“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, Incident Director, UKHSA.

The UKHSA said that in the late August Norfolk outbreak, 33 out of 38 residents and 12 staff members tested positive for the virus. Later lab tests confirmed that 22 residents and six staff members were affected by the BA.2.86 variant. Moreover, one resident needed hospitalisation.

“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,” Bindra added. “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.”

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