The NHS has started dishing out Covid booster jabs amid concerns about a mutant variant that is sweeping the country.
Around 20million people in England, including the over-65s, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions, can now book a vaccination appointment through the NHS website, app or by calling 119.
The scheme was brought forward by an entire month to boost protection among the most vulnerable amid fears that the Pirola variant would trigger a fresh wave and overwhelm the NHS.
Some 42 infections caused by the Omicron spin-off have been confirmed in the UK but health chiefs warn that the true scale of the outbreak is much bigger as hardly anyone is testing for the virus.
Here, MailOnline details all you need to know about the Covid autumn rollout.
Around 20million people in England, including the over-65s, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions, can now book a vaccination appointment through the NHS website, app or by calling 119
Who is eligible for a Covid booster?
Those at highest risk of severe illness from Covid will be offered a booster jab.
- residents in a care home for older adults
- all adults aged 65 years and over
- people aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group
- frontline health and social care workers
- people aged 12 to 64 years who live with someone who is immunosuppressed
- people aged 16 to 64 years who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults
Those in a clinical risk group include people with a chronic respiratory, heart, kidney or liver disease, as well as those with diabetes, immunosuppression — such as chemotherapy patients — and severe mental illness. The group also includes pregnant women and those who are morbidly obese.
It marks a departure from the booster rollout last autumn, when all over-50s were offered a top-up shot.
However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises officials on the scheme, said it should be limited to over-65s for 2023.
Covid and vaccines will be offered to over-65s this year, as well as care home residents and NHS staff
Who can get the jab now?
Residents of care homes for older adults and those who are housebound were prioritised — as they are considered at most risk from Covid. Local health teams visited them to offer jabs from September 11.
From today, all of the 20million eligible people in England can book their Covid vaccine.
GP practices and other local NHS services will be contacted to offer both flu and Covid jabs.
How can I book a jab?
Eligible groups can book their jabs from today through the NHS website, the NHS App or by calling 119.
Which vaccines are being used?
Covid vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sanofi/GSK will be used in the autumn campaign.
Each of these vaccines have been updated so they are more effective against new Covid variants.
Why was the booster rollout brought forward?
Officials brought forward the start date of the Covid booster rollout as a ‘precautionary measure’ after the Pirola variant, scientifically known as BA.2.86, was spotted in the UK.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said speeding up the programme will boost protection, supports those at greatest risk of severe illness and reduce pressure on the NHS.
While virologists have warned it is too early to reliably pinpoint BA.2.86 specific symptoms, its ancestor BA.2 had some tell-tale signs. Experts aren’t yet certain, however if it behaves like similar Omicron subvariants, the signs to watch out for include a runny nose, sore throat and fatigue
Why should I get a Covid booster?
The NHS is encouraging those eligible to get their autumn booster vaccine ‘as soon as they can and not delay’.
Health chiefs are worried about the BA.2.86 Covid strain that is sweeping the UK and is significantly more mutated than other circulating variants.
Those eligible for a booster are deemed the most at risk and the vaccine will increase their protection against severe illness, hospitalisation and death due to Covid ahead of the winter period — when cases are expected to spike.
Even eligible people who have had previous jabs and Covid infections should come forward for a booster, as immunity wanes over time, the NHS says.
Last year, those who had an autumn booster were 53 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid in the month after getting jabbed, compared to those who didn’t get a dose.
Steve Russell, NHS England director of vaccinations and screenings, said: ‘With concerns arising over new covid variants, it’s vital we adapt the programme 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.
‘NHS staff have worked hard to ensure services are ready for patients to get jabbed at an earlier stage so they can get their protection as soon as possible.’
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA said: ‘Older people and those in clinical risk groups remain at highest risk of serious illness from Covid.’
She added: ‘The vaccine continues to provide the best protection against serious illness and hospitalisation from Covid, so please make sure you get vaccinated when offered and encourage loved ones who are eligible to do the same’.
Where can you buy a Covid booster?
While the UKHSA last month confirmed it would ‘welcome’ Covid vaccines being available for millions on the High Street, it is not currently possible to purchase a jab privately.
Industry insiders believe the jabs won’t be ready privately until the spring at the earliest.
This is because ready-filled syringes, not currently used for Covid jabs, would likely be used to give out private vaccines.
The NHS currently uses vials containing several doses. Tinkering to make doses in ready-filled syringes could take months
Pharmacists offer annual flu jabs for in the region of £20. Covid vaccines would likely be more expensive, however.
What’s happening with the rollout in other UK nations?
The flu and Covid jab campaign has already kicked off in Scotland, with appointments starting on September 4.
Everyone over 50 and those with certain conditions will be offered a flu vaccination. But only those aged 65 and over and those with certain health conditions will be offered the Covid jab.
The first appointments for both flu and Covid vaccinations together will begin for the elderly (65 to 74) and most at-risk (aged 12 to 64) on September 18.
Other groups eligible for the booster will then receive these as the campaign progresses.
Wales, like England, began its autumn vaccine rollout on September 11. Northern Ireland officially started its programme on September 18.
Source: Mail Online