Millions to get Covid and flu jabs EARLIER than planned – as new Omicron strain Pirola raises fears | The Sun

COVID and flu vaccines will be dished out earlier than planned because of fears around a new variant.

This year’s autumn jabs programme has been brought forward as a “precautionary measure” while experts examine the BA.2.86 “Pirola” strain, ministers said.

The variant has a high number of mutations and was first spotted in Britain on August 18, according to scientists from the UK Health Security Agency.

Jabs will now be offered from September 11, having previously been set for October, with care home residents and those most at risk being given another dose first.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said: “As our scientists gather more information on the BA.2.86 variant, it makes sense to bring forward the vaccination programme.

“It is absolutely vital that the most vulnerable groups receive a vaccine to strengthen their immunity over winter to protect themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS.

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“I encourage anyone invited for a vaccination – including those yet to have their first jab – to come forward as soon as possible.”

BA.2.86 was first detected in Denmark last month and carries more than 35 mutations in key portions of the virus compared with XBB.1.5, the dominant variant through most of 2023. 

The strain — also known as Pirola — has been recorded in the US, Canada, Switzerland and Israel as well.

It may be better at infecting people who have had a previous jab or case of the virus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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However, little is known about it yet and the success of previous rounds of vaccination should help prevent any chance of a wave of severe infections or deaths, experts believe.

Carers, pregnant women, and health and social care staff will all be among the groups to be offered a Covid and flu jab this autumn, as well as adults aged 65 and over.

Eligible people should wait to receive an invite from their local provider.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said: “Vaccinations are our best defence against flu and Covid ahead of what could be a very challenging winter.

“With the potential for this new covid variant to increase the risk of infection, we are following the latest expert guidance and bringing the covid vaccination programme forward.”

Dame Jenny Harries, of the UKHSA, said: “As we continue to live with Covid we expect to see new variants emerge.

“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.”

She added that Britain has “limited information” on the variant currently, so it is difficult to estimate its potential impact.

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Dame Jenny said: “As with all emergent and circulating Covid variants we will continue to monitor BA.2.86 and to advise Government and the public as we learn more. 

“In the meantime, please come forward for the vaccine when you are called.”

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