Covid and flu vaccines: What is the new variant, who is eligible and how to get your jab

ITV News' Health Correspondent Martin Stew has the details as booster jobs are rolled out earlier than planned

Covid and flu vaccines are being rolled out across England and Wales from Monday, starting with people in care homes and those who are housebound.

The joint jab programme is starting earlier than planned after a new variant of coronavirus was detected in the UK.

NHS England is urging people to get both jabs to avoid a potential “twindemic” of flu and Covid, which would put pressure on the health service.

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-19.

“The vaccine continues to provide the best protection against serious illness and hospitalisation from Covid-19, so please make sure you get vaccinated when offered and encourage loved ones who are eligible to do the same.”

Here's when to expect your jab and what you need to know about the new variant which scientists are monitoring closely

A person receiving a Covid-19 jab Credit: PA

When will I get my Covid and flu vaccines?

People in care homes and those who are housebound will get their vaccines from Monday onwards.

Adults who are eligible for Covid and flu vaccines – including those aged 65 and over, people in at-risk groups and the immunosuppressed – will begin to be invited by the NHS to get their jabs from next week.

These groups will be able to book their jabs from September 18 through the NHS website, the NHS App or by calling 119.

GP surgeries or other local NHS services are also contacting people to offer the vaccines.

Children aged between two to 17 will also be able to have flu vaccinations from next week.

The UKHSA is urging parents to fill out the consent forms for the nasal spray vaccine, which is administered at school and via GP surgeries.

Vaccine programmes have already kicked off in Scotland.

In Wales, it will roll out at the same time as England.

Northern Ireland officially starts its programme on September 18.

What's the new variant and should I be concerned?

The new variant is called BA.2.86.

While it has not been classified as a “variant of concern”, scientists say it carries a high number of mutations and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is watching it closely.

There have been enough unlinked cases of BA.2.86 detected in different parts of the country to suggest the variant is circulating.

An outbreak of Covid-19 in a care home in Norfolk at the end of August saw 33 out of 38 residents and 12 staff members test positive for the virus, according to the UKHSA.

NHS director of vaccinations and screening Steve Russell 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.”

How many people have Covid now?

Some 2,879 patients in England had tested positive for the virus as of September 3, up 13% on the previous week and the highest number since May 26, according to NHS data.

This is still well below the level reached during last winter, when the number was nearly 10,000 people, and even further below the peaks seen in the first year of the pandemic.

The current rise in patients testing positive was under way several weeks before the discovery of the BA.2.86 variant.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...