select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to news that the COVID and flu boosters have been brought forward in England

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have announced 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 SARS-CoV-2 variant.


Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, University of Nottingham, said:

“The earlier we start vaccination, the better as it will give more time to give the vaccine to people as it is not possible to do everyone in a very short period of time due to resources and some people will need to delay for various reasons.

“COVID rates are increasing so it is sensible to get the protection in 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 patient to have both vaccines at the same time as only one visit, and one in each arm.”



Prof John Edmunds, Professor in the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 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. It makes sense, therefore, to bring forward the planned autumn vaccination campaign to ensure that those at highest risk of COVID have their protection topped up. It should be said, however, that this is a precautionary measure. Our genomic surveillance suggests that BA.2.86 is still at low prevalence, and 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.”


Professor Claire Steves, Professor of Aging and Health at King’s College London, said:

“I welcome this decision for two reasons.  We know from consistent research that older and frailer individuals (for example those in care homes) although at more risk of infection, are still protected by vaccination.

“We also know that the immunity they get from vaccines wanes the more time since the vaccination, which means they need topping up if we are suspecting a new wave of the pandemic.

“While it’s not known for sure yet, it’s likely that broader immunity (for example to new variants like this BA.2.86) is better with higher levels of circulating antibodies, which means its 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 3 months after vaccination.

“I would certainly support this booster campaign for more my more vulnerable patients. It makes sense to vaccinate for flu at the same time.  Our previous experience indicates that this is well tolerated and makes logistical sense.”


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, 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-19.  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-19 making people seriously ill, so health authorities have taken the decision to get the vaccination programme started 3 weeks sooner than originally planned.  This will only be our fourth winter with Covid-19, so science and medicine still have a lot to learn about how the weather influences spread of this particular virus.  Operationally it just makes sense to get the ball rolling and to not do it at the same time as the flu jab would be folly, people might not bother going for the second jab or mistakenly assume that one jab protects against two very different viruses.”



Declared interests

No reply to our request for DOIs was received.


in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag