UK accelerates COVID-19 vaccine programs amid growing concerns over new variant risk

Health authorities in the UK have reported an increase in cases of the highly mutable 'Pirola' COVID-19 variant.

According to Public Health Scotland (PHS), the BA.2.86 variant was first discovered through PCR testing on a sample collected on Aug. 16.

In the coming weeks, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is set to unveil plans for increased COVID-19 testing and community surveillance during the winter months, according to British media.

This decision comes on the heels of an announcement by health authorities that the vaccination campaign in England will commence on Sept. 11, approximately three weeks ahead of the initially scheduled "early October" rollout.

From Sept. 18, the NHS will begin inviting people in priority order of risk, and those eligible will be able to book an appointment through the National Booking Service.

These measures are being implemented in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the emergence of a highly mutated SARS-CoV-2 variant known as BA.2.86 or Pirola.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed that it is currently analyzing the new variant.

The UKHSA said: "While BA.2.86 is not currently classified as a variant of concern, advice from UKHSA suggests that speeding up the autumn vaccine program will deliver greater protection, supporting those at greatest risk of severe illness and reducing the potential impact on the NHS."

Dame Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, has emphasized the significant success of the vaccination program in establishing robust and widespread immune defenses against these new variants across the population.

"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," he explained.

Source: Anadolu Agency