30 Aug 2023
by Policy, Practice and Innovation Team

The Department of Health and Social Care announced today that this year’s autumn flu and Covid-19 vaccine programmes will start earlier than planned in England as a precautionary measure, following the identification of a new Covid variant.

The precautionary measure is being taken as scientists from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) examine the variant BA.2.86, which was first detected in the UK on 18 August.

According to the latest risk assessment by the UKHSA, BA.2.86 has a high number of mutations and has appeared in several countries in individuals without travel history.

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

The decision means those most at risk from winter illness – including people in care homes for older people, the clinically vulnerable, those aged 65 and over, health and social care staff and carers – will be able to access a Covid vaccine in September, rather than October as previously planned.

DHSC say the annual flu vaccine will also be made available to these groups at the same time wherever possible, to ensure they are protected ahead of winter.

Vaccinations are now set to start on 11 September, with adult care home residents and those most at risk to receive vaccines first. NHS England is expected to announce full details of the accelerated roll-out soon, and those who fall into higher-risk groups are being encouraged to take up the jab as soon as they’re invited, to ensure they get the best protection.

We are expecting specific advice for the adult social care sector to be available in the next few days, according to DHSC, and will pass this on to our members.

DHSC say there is no change to current, wider public health advice.

Update 1 September

We emailed members yesterday a letter dated 30 August 2023 from DHSC to domiciliary care providers and managers, which says all adult social care staff should book their vaccinations via Local Booking Services from 11 September, and the National Booking Service (NBS), from 18 September. Appointments can also be booked online on the NHS App, or by phoning 119.

Resources and publicity material to support the vaccination campaign are available from: Health and Social Care Workers Winter Vaccinations Campaign Resources.

NHS England has published the NHS vaccination response to urgent BA2.86 risk and changes to autumn/winter 2023/24 vaccination delivery programme, which gives more information about how the accelerated programme will operate.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) and Scottish Government are working closely with Health Boards on bringing winter vaccinations forward for those at highest risk of becoming seriously ill from flu and COVID-19. More information.

The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland is also bringing forward vaccination: COVID-19 still with us, but vaccination and taking practical steps can reduce spread | HSC Public Health Agency (hscni.net).

Information about the winter vaccination programme in Wales: People in Wales reminded how they can help stop the spread of respiratory infections.

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