Ought to we be anxious in regards to the new COVID-19 variant?

Older man with a clinician in a healthcare setting

With the emergence on the finish of final 12 months of COVID-19 variant JN.1, there are questions on the way it compares to the various different variants which have been recognized.

JN.1 descends from variant BA.2.86 and has an extra mutation within the spike protein. It has not too long ago develop into the most widely circulating variant in the US in addition to in France. As of January 2024, roughly 60% of English circumstances are brought on by JN.1.

UKHSA is continuous to observe knowledge regarding variants each within the UK and internationally, together with shut monitoring of the JN.1 variant, and evaluation of severity and vaccine effectiveness. There is no such thing as a change to the broader public well being recommendation presently.

There aren’t any stories of individuals changing into extra unwell with this COVID-19 variant than with earlier ones.

It is very important word that we are going to want extra knowledge to attract any conclusions in regards to the impact of those mutations on transmissibility and severity of the variant. On this weblog publish we’ll define what we all know up to now and what motion we’re taking.

It’s regular for viruses to mutate and alter, and extra broadly we’re nonetheless attending to grips with how the healthcare system responds to the ebb and move of seasonal circumstances. As extra knowledge turns into accessible on this variant, we’ll have a greater understanding of the way it interacts with our immune techniques and learn how to optimise our safety and in addition to actions we are able to take to maintain essentially the most weak protected and stay our lives as usually as attainable.

If individuals develop into unwell, and are not sure if they’ve COVID-19, what ought to they do?

In case you have signs of a respiratory an infection, resembling COVID-19, and you’ve got a excessive temperature or don’t really feel nicely sufficient to go to work or perform regular actions, you need to keep away from contact with weak individuals and keep at dwelling if attainable.

For these of us who completely can’t keep at dwelling, our Living with COVID guidance is unchanged, and descriptions learn how to forestall transmission to others.

Why ought to individuals come ahead for his or her vaccine?

Vaccines stay our greatest defence towards extreme illness and hospitalisation from flu and COVID-19. That’s why we’re asking over-65s, anybody in a scientific threat group, and anybody dwelling in a family with somebody who’s in a scientific threat group, to come forward for their vaccination. Their safety since their final vaccination may have waned and so they stay at elevated threat from a respiratory an infection this winter. It’s additionally vital to notice that COVID-19 isn’t a particular case; respiratory infections will be unpredictable, and we’re asking comparable teams to get vaccinated towards flu.

The final date that the seasonal COVID-19 vaccination might be accessible is 31 January 2024.

What surveillance techniques are in place?

We publish the most recent surveillance knowledge for COVID-19 and different respiratory diseases weekly, to the UKHSA data dashboard. We’re additionally getting very important knowledge from those that are admitted to hospital with signs, and we’re utilising genome sequencing to grasp which variants individuals are most weak to.

There are additionally particular surveillance programmes in place, the place small pattern teams are examined frequently. These permit us to observe developments within the wider neighborhood.

Hospital is the place we’ll see the extra extreme circumstances, and we might be monitoring the numbers of individuals attending with COVID-19 signs very fastidiously. It will assist us perceive the expansion price and transmission potential of the brand new variant.

We proceed to collaborate globally with well being organisations in different international locations, the World Health Organisation and initiatives such because the Global Influenza Surveillance & Response System (GISAID) to make sure that we’ve essentially the most present knowledge.

What’s the UKHSA doing to sort out the brand new variant?

When a brand new variant seems on our radar, on the preliminary levels it’s usually fairly tough to know whether or not the mutations present any benefits to the virus. Genetic mutations occur on a regular basis, and in some circumstances have been recognized to make a virus much less transmissible or trigger a milder response in individuals.

At these early levels our scientists on the Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC) are busy rising a inventory of the JN.1 variant in our excessive containment services, in order that we are able to start testing.

On the similar time, scientists in our COVID-19 Vaccine Unit work hand in glove with vaccine builders to get samples of latest, as but unlicensed, vaccines to evaluate whether or not they may give higher safety towards the virus.

Vaccinations for flu and COVID-19 assist to maintain weak individuals out of hospital and carrying on with their day-to-day lives, in addition to cut back strain on our NHS which is all the time essential within the winter. If you happen to’re eligible for the jabs, please don’t hesitate, guide your vaccine and get winter robust.

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