Pirola Covid-19 variant: Scots urged to get vaccinated as new variant spreads to communities
National clinical director Jason Leitch has urged eligible Scots to get vaccinated ahead of the winter, to protect the NHS and to guard against the new strain of Covid, known as Pirola. But how worried should we be about this new strain?
Prof Leitch – one of the Scottish Government’s chief advisers on Covid – said that although coronavirus does not pose the same risk it once did, Scots should still prepare.
“We shouldn't ignore it [Covid-19], but nor is it the same as 2020 or 2021,” he told the BBC.
“People are still getting sick, people are still getting long Covid and vaccination is still a priority for us.”
Pirola is already on the island of Great Britain. The new BA.2.86 variant of SARS-CoV-2 – nicknamed “Pirola” – was detected in an English care home, prompting the UK Government to announce the strain is likely to be spreading in the community.
The variant, which contains many mutations to the spike gene and was first detected in Denmark in late July, has been identified in several countries, including Canada, Israel, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden, as well as the UK and the US.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) detected 34 cases in England to September 4, of which 28 cases were from a single outbreak in a Norfolk care home.
The UKHSA has said there is “not enough evidence to know if the variant has altered clinical severity or will predominate in the UK”.
Dr Renu Bindra, incident director at UKHSA, said: “While BA.2.86 has a significant number of mutations to the viral genome compared to other currently circulating Covid-19 variants, the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the transmissibility, severity or immune escape properties of the virus.
“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this. In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”
Prof Leitch, in response to a question asking whether existing vaccines would be effective against Pirola, said: “Most of the Covid in the community now is not the new variant. Most of it is bog standard Omicron, the same as the last few months.
“The vaccine, as we know, is very effective against the bog standard Omicron. This new variant is now in 15 countries. Those communities are too big to isolate.”
Prof Leith confirmed the variant was being tested against current vaccines, and “so far that vaccine is giving a good response”, which is why vaccine schedules have been brought forward.
“This virus will not escape our vaccines in one leap,” Prof Leitch said.
“In a bad-case scenario, it would sneak away from the vaccine – become ten or 14 per cent less effective – and then we will adjust the vaccine.”
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