Fears related to the new Pirola Covid variant have prompted ministers to bring forward the launch of the vaccine in the autumn.
British scientists are currently studying the BA.2.86 strain and authorities have put in place the ‘precautionary measure’ while they determine how dangerous it is.
It was first picked up in the UK on August 18, according to scientists at the UK Health Security Agency.
The Omicron sub-tribe is heavily mutated, and experts fear it may evade your immunity.
When was it first discovered and what other countries are infected?
BA.2.86 was first sequenced in Denmark on July 24 and has since been sighted in the US, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Portugal and Israel.
The first case in Denmark was detected in a patient who was at risk of developing serious illness.
Others have been identified in symptomatic patients, in routine airport screening, and in sewage samples in a few countries.
Only two cases have been reported in the UK so far.
Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “Our genomic surveillance suggests that BA.2.86 still has a low prevalence.
“Although this tribe has been identified in a number of different countries, it is not yet clear if it will replace existing tribes in any of these areas.”
What is different about Pirola?
The Omicron offshoot carries more than 35 mutations in key parts of the virus compared to XBB.1.5, the dominant variant through most of 2023.
All of the mutations were found in the virus’s spike protein – the part that serves to enter human cells.
Professor Edmunds said: “BA.2.86 is characterized by a large number of mutations, many of which can be expected to help the virus evade established immune responses.”
Is the variant more dangerous and does it affect my immunity?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BA.28.86 may be better suited to infect people who have already had a vaccination or case of the virus.
However, experts disagree on whether it makes you more susceptible to serious illnesses.
dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, said: “There is currently no publicly available data to suggest BA.2.86 is able to overcome current immunity to the most serious, life-threatening forms of Covid.”
“However, some people are more vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus and we should not forget that immunity declines over time.
“The mutations present in BA.2.86 mean there are many unanswered questions about how it will behave in winter, when there is an increased risk of Covid making people seriously ill.”
Professor Claire Steve of King’s College London said: “We know that the immunity you get from vaccination diminishes with time since vaccination.”
“That means they have to ramp up if we suspect a new wave of the pandemic.
“Although this vaccine is not designed for this particular variant, there is probably a good chance that it will help reduce risk, especially in the first three months after vaccination.”
What are the main symptoms of Pirola?
There is currently no evidence that Pirola causes new symptoms that are not already present with other Omicron variants.
According to the ZOE study, these include:
- Runny nose
- sore throat
How has this affected the launch of the vaccine?
The NHS announced yesterday that the introduction of the Covid and flu vaccine is being brought forward to 11 September, having previously been planned for October.
But it hasn’t impacted who is offered a shot, with care home residents and those most at risk being given another dose first.
Groups to be offered Covid and flu shots this fall include carers, pregnant women and health and social workers, and adults aged 65 and over.
Eligible individuals should wait to receive an invitation from their local provider.
Professor Keith Neal of the University of Nottingham said: “The sooner we start vaccination the better as we have more time to get people the vaccine.”
“Covid rates are rising so it makes sense to get protected now. The sooner the vaccine is given, the more likely it is that someone will become infected.
“The flu protection lasts all season even if it is given in September. It is easier for patients to get both vaccines at the same time, with just one visit and one in each arm.”