The NHS annual flu and Covid vaccine programmes are being brought forward due to fears that heavily-mutated Pirola variant will trigger a fresh wave and overwhelm the NHS. The Department of Health and Social Care announced that vaccinations for care home residents and vulnerable adults will now be starting earlier than scheduled.
GPs and pharmacies will start giving out the jabs from September 11, a month earlier than originally planned.
The Mail Online reports: The ‘precautionary’ move comes amid fears over the spread of the mutated Pirola variant of Covid, technically called BA.2.86. Health chiefs today confirmed a second Brit has been infected with the strain.
Ministers said they had made the decision to reduce pressure on the health service while scientists rush to learn more about Pirola, described as a ‘real deal’ and the ‘most striking’ that the world has seen since Omicron first emerged.
Announcing the move, Health Minister Maria Caulfield said: ‘As our world-leading scientists gather more information on the BA.2.86 variant, it makes sense to bring forward the vaccination programme.
‘It is absolutely vital the most vulnerable groups receive a vaccine to strengthen their immunity over winter to protect themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS.
‘I encourage anyone invited for a vaccination – including those yet to have their first jab – to come forward as soon as possible.’
Bringing the jab rollout forward was based on advice from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that speeding up the rollout would offer people greater protection from the becoming severely ill from virus.
This, the agency claimed, would have the added benefit of reducing pressure on the NHS.
UKHSA chief executive of the Dame Jenny Harries said: ‘Thanks to the success of our vaccine programme, we have built strong, broad immune defences against new variants throughout the population.
‘However, some people remain more vulnerable to severe illness from Covid.
‘This precautionary measure to bring forward the autumn programme will ensure these people have protection against any potential wave this winter.’
Dame Jenny added that the agency was continuing to evaluate Pirola.
‘There is limited information available at present on BA.2.86 so the potential impact of this particular variant is difficult to estimate.