UK accelerates winter vaccination rollout amid concerns over new COVID varianttext_fields
London: The United Kingdom has initiated its winter vaccine program earlier than planned due to concerns regarding the new COVID variant, BA.2.86.
While this variant has not been classified as a "variant of concern" by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), it is being closely monitored because of its propensity to mutate.
The National Health Service (NHS) has announced that residents of older adult care homes and housebound individuals will begin receiving both COVID and flu vaccinations this week. Other high-risk groups will be invited to receive their "top-up protection" ahead of winter starting next week.
Dr. Renu Bindra, an Indian-origin Incident Director for the UKHSA, commented on the new variant, stating, "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. 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. 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."
NHS England has decided to simultaneously roll out its adult COVID and annual flu vaccination programs due to the pressures faced last year with a "twindemic" of flu and COVID, resulting in high hospital occupancy and record pressure on staff. The importance of top-up vaccinations has been stressed, as immunity diminishes over time, and the viruses change each year.
Steve Russell, NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening, said, "With concerns arising over new COVID variants, it's vital we adapt the program and bring it forward for those most at risk, and so I strongly urge everyone eligible to come forward as soon as they can for this important protection in colder months."
Dr. Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunization at UKHSA, added, "Older people and those in clinical risk groups remain at the highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19. The vaccine continues to provide the best protection against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, so please make sure you get vaccinated when offered and encourage loved ones who are eligible to do the same."