England’s COVID-19 and flu vaccination programme is starting earlier than planned after a new coronavirus variant was detected.
The latest advice following the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant has prompted the acceleration of the NHS’s vaccine rollout.
On Monday, the programme started targeting older adult care homes and housebound people to get a jab.
To start earlier with the programme, the NHS now has 3,500 sites, “more sites than ever before,” it added.
The NHS said that last year it faced the “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 with high hospital occupancy and record pressure on staff.
At the time, Dr. Renu Bindra, UKHSA incident director, said that while BA.2.86 has a “significant number of mutations” compared with other variants circulating among the population, the data so far is “too limited to draw firm conclusions” about the impact this will have on the transmissibility or severity of the virus.
She added: “UKHSA scientists are working with international partners to culture the samples and analyse the evidence as it becomes available.
“However, it is likely to be some time before we have enough data to make a confident assessment.
“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.”
The NHS said that with the “programme brought forward, vaccine providers will be given an additional payment.”
They will get £10 for each COVID-19 vaccination they administer to care home residents between Sept. 11 to Oct. 22, 2023. They will also be given a separate one-off payment of £200 for each completed care home by the end of Oct. 22, 2023.
For other eligible groups, vaccine providers will receive an additional £5 acceleration payment for each COVID-19 vaccination administered to eligible people between September 11 and Oct. 31, 2023.
NHS director of vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: “The NHS flu and COVID vaccination programmes have been very effective in protecting those at greatest risk and we will work at speed to ensure they are protected once again this year, starting with care homes and those who are housebound today.
“With concerns arising over new COVID-19 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.”
Over eight million children in reception to year 11 will be offered the free nasal spray flu vaccine, delivered in schools by immunisation teams up and down the country.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, claimed that having “your child vaccinated against flu” will help “family doctors to protect their patients most effectively and ensure that NHS services are available for those who need them most over the coming months.”
PA Media contributed to this report.