4:25 PM 24th September 2023
COVID-19 Variants Identified In The UK – 22 September 2023
UKHSA releases latest data on variant BA.2.86
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has published its latest variant technical briefing containing updated analysis of the emergent variant BA.2.86.
BA.2.86 continues to transmit within the UK, with sporadic cases identified in most regions.
The briefing contains early laboratory data from a number of scientific organisations around the UK, including UKHSA’s own Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC), the University of Oxford, the Glasgow Centre of Virus Research and the Pirbright Institute.
This early data indicates that BA.2.86 is no more likely to evade existing antibodies than XBB.1.5, another variant that has been circulating widely in the UK.
While the available data remains limited, there is currently no evidence to suggest that BA.2.86 infection is more likely to make people seriously ill than currently-circulating variants, while vaccination is likely to provide continued protection.
UKHSA will continue to monitor vaccine effectiveness in the population throughout the winter and will publish updated analysis in due course.
Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor, UKHSA said:
"While this is still very early data and more research is needed before we can be certain, it is encouraging to see an initial indication that BA.2.86 demonstrates similar levels of antibody escape compared to other variants circulating in the UK. The available data is too limited to draw conclusions about the severity of the illness it causes, but there is so far no evidence to suggest that it is more likely to make people seriously ill than other Omicron variants in circulation.
"The autumn vaccination programme started this month, and this new data shows once again how important it is that the most vulnerable among us are fully vaccinated in order to receive the greatest possible protection. I urge everyone eligible to come forward for their next dose as soon as they are called."
The UKHSA technical briefing also includes initial findings of tests performed in the UKHSA laboratory at Porton Down to examine the effectiveness of lateral flow devices (LFDs) in detecting BA.2.86, which found no reduction in sensitivity compared to previous variants.
BA.2.86 was first identified in August and, as of 18 September, 137 cases have been sequenced in 15 countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.
As of 18 September, there were 54 confirmed cases in the UK, 48 in England and 6 in Scotland. No cases have been identified in Wales or Northern Ireland. Of the 48 cases in England, 30 were identified as part of a care home outbreak investigation in the East of England, while the other 18 were identified through routine genomic surveillance. Of the 48 cases, 10 cases were hospitalised, 2 were tested in an emergency department, and 6 cases have unknown hospitalisation status. There were no known deaths due to COVID-19 among these cases.
As we head into the winter months when case rates are expected to rise as people mix more indoors, it remains vital that people continue to follow the latest guidance in order to avoid catching and transmitting COVID-19. The advice remains unchanged; if you have any symptoms of respiratory infection, you should limit your contact with other people as much as possible, especially the elderly and those with existing medical conditions.
The autumn vaccination campaign for COVID-19 and flu is under way for those people at higher risk. UKHSA is urging everyone who is offered a vaccination to come forward and take it up as soon as possible.