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Covid and flu autumn jabs sped up as fears grow over new BA.2.86 variant

The roll-out of flu and Covid-19 vaccines for autumn has been sped up as fears grow over the new BA.2.86 coronavirus variant.

Vaccinations are now set to start on 11 September in England, with adult care home residents and those most at risk, those aged 65 and over, and health and social care staff and carers, to receive their jabs first.

The annual flu vaccine will also be given to these groups at the same time, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The roll-out of flu vaccines was originally planned to begin in October – a month later than planned – to coincide with the roll-out of Covid booster jabs. But GP practices warned the delay would cause “chaos” and put vulnerable people at risk ahead of a difficult winter.

But the Department of Health and Social Care has brought forward the roll-out of both jabs after scientists from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said doing so would help “protect those most vulnerable from illness” from the Covid-19 variant BA.2.86, which carries a high number of mutations.

It is hoped bringing forward the jabs could also help to reduce any potential impact on the NHS.

The UKHSA is examining the new variant, which was first detected in the UK on Friday 18 August. While the BA.2.86 variant is not classified as a “variant of concern” scientists have said that it carries a high number of mutations.

Its discovery has amplified fears of a new wave of Covid in the UK. Hospital admissions for coronavirus have risen in the past month, coinciding with the effectiveness of vaccines wearing off and a new variant emerging.

Symptoms of the new variant include a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and a sore throat.

People have been urged to take up the offer of the vaccines as soon as they are invited to come forward.

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.

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“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.”

Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dame Jenny Harries said: “This precautionary measure to bring forward the autumn programme will ensure these [vulnerable] people have protection against any potential [Covid] 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. 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.”