Expressing concerns over the potential impact of this variant on infection rates, NHS England leaders have highlighted the importance of mitigating the challenges that a variant surge might pose during the upcoming winter season.
The initiative targets a timely vaccination rollout for individuals aged over 65, older residents of adult care homes, and those with weakened immune systems. The vaccination campaign is set to commence on September 11, with the overarching goal of vaccinating eligible recipients by October 31.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) acknowledges limited information regarding the new variant, identified as BA.2.86. Despite not being classified as a variant of concern, health authorities view accelerating the autumn vaccination drive as crucial to safeguarding high-risk individuals from severe illness.
Additionally, expediting the vaccination campaign could potentially alleviate the strain on the NHS throughout the winter months.
Nonetheless, pharmacists have voiced concerns regarding the short-notice adjustments to the plan, citing the ensuing confusion and disruptions within pharmacy teams.
Traditionally commencing in September, the vaccination program had been rescheduled to October to minimize the gap between administering the jabs and the onset of winter viruses.
Tase Oputu, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, emphasizes the necessity for more decisive government planning in the future to prevent such uncertainties.
The NHS will notify individuals about the commencement of bookings, with appointments available through the NHS App, the official website, or by dialing 119 for those without online access. Moreover, flu vaccines will be accessible through local GP practices, pharmacies, and schools for children.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises that the following groups be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination during the autumn:
- Residents of older adult care homes
- All adults aged 65 years and over
- Individuals aged six months to 64 years in clinical risk groups
- Front-line health and social care workers
- Individuals aged 12 to 64 years residing with people who have weakened immune systems
People eligible for free flu vaccines can find information on the NHS UK website.
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, acknowledges the potential emergence of new Covid variants and stresses the importance of vigilance.
“As with all emergent and circulating COVID-19 variants, both in the UK and internationally, we will continue to monitor BA.2.86 and advise the government and the public as we learn more,” she states. “In the meantime, please come forward for the vaccine when you are called.”
In Scotland, the autumn vaccination program is set to commence on September 4, encompassing Covid jabs for individuals over 65 and flu jabs for those over 50.