Millions of Britons are being invited to receive an autumn Covid booster dose from today amid spiraling virus hospitalizations.
Around 20 million people in England are eligible to receive the booster this year, including those over 65, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.
They have been urged to book their vaccination appointment, during which they will also be offered a flu vaccine. – via the website, NHS app or by calling 119.
Officials brought forward the rollout by an entire month due to the spread of the highly mutated Pirola Covid variant, which experts fear could trigger a surge in infections and hospitalizations.
The latest data shows the number of infected Britons admitted to hospitals in England is at its highest level in four months, with the figure doubling in the space of a month.
Covid and flu vaccines will only be offered to over-65s this winter, health chiefs confirmed today. In a bid to “get back to normal,” invitations will not be distributed to millions of people ages 50 to 64 who were eligible during the pandemic.
It comes as Covid hospitalizations have soared to a four-month high in England. Some 3,287 infected people were admitted in the week to September 8, the highest number recorded from the week to April 28 (3,485). The toll has also almost doubled in a month, compared to 1,804 NHS beds with Covid in the week to August 4.
Health chiefs say all those eligible will be offered a Covid booster dose by the end of October in response to the “risk of the new variant”.
The fall rollout began last week, with nursing home residents and homebound people the first to receive additional Covid and flu vaccines.
Hundreds of thousands of people included in the program will start receiving invitations from the health service this week, encouraging them to come forward.
In addition to care home residents and homebound people, over-65s, frontline health and social care workers and carers are also eligible to receive Covid and flu vaccines.
People from 6 months to 64 years old in a clinical risk group will also be invited.
This group includes people with chronic respiratory, heart, kidney or liver diseases, as well as people with diabetes, pregnant women and people with morbid obesity.
GPs and other local NHS services are also contacting people to offer vaccines.
The 30 million Brits eligible for the flu vaccine can book a spot at their local pharmacy. Those receiving the Covid vaccine will also be offered the flu vaccine during that appointment.
Around 5,000 sites, the most yet, will distribute vaccines in a bid to make protecting people as “easy and convenient as possible”.
Steve Russell, NHS vaccination and screening director, said: “Vaccines are our best protection against flu and Covid, and I strongly encourage all eligible people to come forward for the life-saving winter vaccines as soon as possible. can.”
“The new Covid variant presents a new risk, but NHS staff are rising to the challenge once again to do everything they can to protect the public.”
The NHS says winter and flu vaccines provide vital protection to eligible people and their families during the winter.
The vaccine protects against serious illness, hospitalization and death due to the virus. Those who received a vaccine last fall were 53 percent less likely to be admitted in the month following the shot, compared to those who did not receive a booster dose.
It is vital that people receive a booster dose, even if they have received the Covid vaccine or have been previously infected, as the immunity they provide fades over time.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield said: “As we enter the autumn months, it is vital that the most vulnerable groups receive flu and Covid vaccines to strengthen their immunity and reduce pressure on the NHS.
‘We are investing an additional £200 million into the NHS to support it during its busiest period. “We can all do our bit to help ease the pressures, so I encourage all eligible people to book their vaccinations as soon as they are asked to, to ensure we all head into winter with the best protection.”
The east of England had the highest number of cases thanks to a massive outbreak of 28 cases at a care home in Norfolk at the end of August.
Globally, more than 100 cases of Pirola have been detected, including Denmark, South Africa and the United States.
While virologists have cautioned that it is too early to reliably identify the specific symptoms of BA.2.86, its ancestor BA.2 had some telltale signs. Experts are not yet sure, however, if it behaves like similar subvariants of Omicron, signs to look out for include runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunization at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “We are already seeing a slow rise in Covid cases, as well as a rise in hospitalisations, especially among the over-aged. 75 years.
“Older people and those in clinical risk groups remain at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, so it is important that everyone eligible comes forward when offered and protects themselves against flu and Covid.”
It comes as Covid hospitalizations have soared to a four-month high in England.
Some 3,287 infected people were admitted in the week to September 8, the highest number recorded from the week to April 28 (3,485).
The toll has also almost doubled in a month, compared to 1,804 NHS beds with Covid in the week to August 4.
Pirola has been detected in the United Kingdom, United States, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, Portugal, Sweden, France, Canada, Thailand and Switzerland. Health experts fear it is spreading rapidly around the world undetected.
It is unclear how many Britons are infected with the virus, as the nation is no longer mass testing as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and free mass community testing was phased out in May 2022.
However, health chiefs estimated last week that the Pirola variant was behind 2.7 per cent of cases in the week to August 27.
As of September 11, a total of 42 cases had been detected in the United Kingdom, compared to 36 the previous week.
The east of England has recorded the highest number of cases due to a massive care home outbreak of 28 cases in Norfolk at the end of August.
Excluding this singular event, London was the UK’s Pirola hotspot, recording six cases, followed by Scotland, which reported five.
Of the 37 cases in England detected up to September 11, seven had been hospitalized, while two were detected among emergency room patients. No deaths have been recorded among those infected.
No cases of Pirola have been detected in Wales and Northern Ireland.
More than 100 cases of Pyrola have been detected worldwide, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United States.
Dr Renu Bindra, incident director at UKHSA, said that while Pirola has a “significant number of mutations” compared to other variants in circulation, the data so far is “too limited to draw firm conclusions” about the impact that this will have.
He added: “It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to determine the full extent of this.”
“In the meantime, it remains vital that everyone who is eligible comes forward for the fall vaccine as soon as it is offered.”