FEARS around the new Pirola Covid variant have prompted ministers to bring forward this autumn’s vaccine rollout.
British scientists are currently studying the BA.2.86 strain and officials introduced the “precautionary measure” while they determine how dangerous it is.
UK Health Security Agency scientists are currently studying the BA.2.86 “Pirola” Covid strain[/caption]
It was first picked up in Britain on August 18, according to scientists from the UK Health Security Agency.
The substrain of Omicron is highly mutated and experts are concerned it could evade your immunity.
When was it first spotted and what other countries have infections?
The first case in Denmark was spotted in a patient at risk of becoming severely ill.
Others have been picked up in symptomatic patients, in routine airport screening, and in wastewater samples in a handful of countries.
Just two cases have been reported in Britain so far.
Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Our genomic surveillance suggests that BA.2.86 is still at low prevalence.
“Although this strain has been identified in a number of different countries, it is not yet clear whether it is replacing existing strains in any of these settings.”
What is different about Pirola?
The Omicron offshoot carries more than 35 mutations in key portions of the virus compared with XBB.1.5, the dominant variant through most of 2023.
All the mutations have been found in the virus’ spike protein — the part used to gain entry to human cells.
Professor Edmunds said: “BA.2.86 is characterised by a large number of mutations, many of which might be expected to help the virus evade existing immune responses.”
Is the variant more dangerous and will it affect my immunity?
BA.28.86 may be better at infecting people who have had a previous jab or case of the virus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, experts say the jury is out on whether this will make you more susceptible to severe illness.
Dr Simon Clarke, of the University of Reading, said: “There’s currently no publicly available data to suggest that BA.2.86 is able to overwhelm present levels of 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 shouldn’t forget that immunity wanes over time.
“The mutations present in BA.2.86 mean that there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding how it will behave come the winter when there is increased risk of Covid making people seriously ill.”
Professor Claire Steve, of King’s College London said: “We know the immunity you get from vaccines wanes the more time since the vaccination.
“This means they need topping up if we are suspecting a new wave of the pandemic.
“It’s likely that even though this vaccine is not designed for this particular variant, it is a good chance it will help to reduce risk, especially in the first three months after vaccination.”
What are the main symptoms of Pirola?
There is currently no evidence to suggest Pirola causes any new symptoms that aren’t already common with other Omicron variants.
According to the ZOE study, these include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
How has it affected the vaccine rollout?
The NHS yesterday announced the Covid and flu jab rollout was being brought forward September 11, having previously been set for October.
However, it has not affected who will be offered a jab, with care home residents and those most at risk being given another dose first.
Eligible people should wait to receive an invite from their local provider.
Professor Keith Neal of the University of Nottingham, said: “The earlier we start vaccination, the better as it will give more time to give the vaccine to people.
“Covid rates are increasing so it is sensible to get the protection now. The earlier the vaccine is given the more likely this will be before someone gets infected.
“Flu protection will last the whole season even when given in September. It is easier for patients to have both vaccines at the same time with only one visit, and one in each arm.”