England’s autumn flu and Covid-19 vaccine programme has been pulled forward by a month after a new Covid variant was identified.
The programmes will start in September as a precautionary measure as scientists from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) examine the variant BA.2.86, or Pirola.
The new variant was first detected in the UK on Friday, August 18.
While the variant is not classified as a “variant of concern” scientists have said that it carries a high number of mutations.
The Department of Health and Social Care said that vaccinations in England will start on September 11 following advice from the UKHSA.
Those most at risk will be able to get the vaccine in September, including care home residents, those aged 65 and over, frontline health and social care workers, and clinically vulnerable people and their household contacts.
Care home residents and others deemed most at risk will receive the vaccines first.
The annual flu jab will also be made available to these groups at the same time where possible to ensure they are protected ahead of winter.
The UKHSA advised that speeding up the autumn vaccine programme will deliver greater protection, particularly for those greatest risk of severe illness. This could also reduce any potential impact on the NHS.
People have been urged to take up the offer of the vaccines as soon as they are invited to come forward.
UKHSA Chief Executive Dame Jenny Harries said bringing forward the programme as a precautionary measure will ensure people have “protection against any potential wave this winter”.
“There is limited information available at present on BA.2.86 so the potential impact of this particular variant is difficult to estimate,” she said.
“As with all emergent and circulating Covid-19 variants – both in the UK and internationally – 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.”