It’s thought that fewer than a third of people eligible for booster jabs this winter will ultimately take up the offer, even though the virus’s mutations pose an ongoing risk
Another coronavirus mutation is spreading across the UK amid fears that millions of people who haven’t had their jabs remain vulnerable to the killer virus.
Nearly 17 million eligible people have so far failed to have their autumn booster jabs, even though the nasty virus remains in circulation and continues to mutate as it bids to escape being wiped out.
Earlier this year, the autumn booster programme was brought forward three weeks following the discovery of a highly mutated variant, BA.2.86. And despite at least one other strain having about 40 mutations over the most common Covid strain, fewer than half of those eligible for the latest Covid vaccine have come forward to have it.
There are about 27.5 million people in the UK eligible for the jabs, but NHS data shows that fewer than 11 million have taken up the offer. And data reported by the Mirror suggests that more than a third of those eligible will ultimately end up without the booster.
Health experts say that the vaccine cuts the odds of catching a potentially fatal case of Covid and reduces the number of people who need to go to hospital if they fall ill.
The Mirror is reporting that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) originally thought only about 60% of those eligible for the vaccine would take it, although that figure has now crept up to 64% thanks to the start of the rollout being brought forward from October to September.
That means more than a million extra people are likely to have the jab – but millions more won’t.
The rollout was brought forward following concerns over the BA.2.86 strain, which has been named Pirola and has about 30 mutations. Subsequently, sub-variant JN.1 came with about 40 mutations, which alarmed scientists further.
There’s little data available on either JN.1 or BA.2.86 and it’s tricky to tell if they will lead to increased transmission or not. But amongst the mutations are some that have previously been linked to playing a role in making the virus more “efficient”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: “The Covid-19 autumn booster is offered to those at highest risk of serious illness in order to top up their immunity ahead of winter, and millions of people have come forward to date.
“Expectations of how many people are likely to take up the offer are based on uptake rates in previous years and, as will any public health programme, this can vary across different regions for a number of reasons.
“The vaccine protects against serious illness and keeps people out of hospital so, if you are eligible, book your appointment today to protect our NHS services and avoid spoiling your winter plans with unnecessary illness.”