This autumn's Covid vaccination programmes in England are being brought forward to begin on 11 September following the identification of a new Covid variant, the government has announced.

Eligible patients are being urged to come forward for their jab as soon as they are invited to do so, with NHS England prioritising those living in care homes and at higher-risk.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it will release more details of the accelerated roll out soon.

And it said that wherever possible, patients receiving the Covid vaccination should also be offered their annual flu vaccine at the same time.

The variant, BA.2.86 was first detected in the UK on Friday 18 August and is currently being examined by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The UKHSA has so far said that the variant has a high number of mutations and has appeared in several countries in individuals without travel history.

Chief executive of the UKHSA, Dame Jenny Harries, described the change of the autumn programme start date as a ‘precautionary measure’.

‘There is limited information available at present on BA.2.86 so the potential impact of this particular variant is difficult to estimate. As with all emergent and circulating Covid-19 variants – both in the UK and internationally – we will continue to monitor BA.2.86 and to advise government and the public as we learn more,’ she said.

And she added that in the meantime, patients should come forward for the vaccine when called.

Health minister, Maria Caulfield said that in the light of the new variant it ‘makes sense to bring forward the vaccination programme’.

She added: ‘It is absolutely vital the most vulnerable groups receive a vaccine to strengthen their immunity over winter to protect themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS.

‘I encourage anyone invited for a vaccination – including those yet to have their first jab – to come forward as soon as possible.’

The eleventh-hour change comes after the start date of the flu autumn vaccination programme was previously changed from September to October to bring it in line with Covid vaccinations.

Community pharmacy leaders called for the delay to be reversed, saying that the sector had already put plans in place for a September start.

NHSE then allowed community pharmacies to claim payments for jabs given in September where patients had already booked appointments.

But the National Pharmacy Association told The Pharmacist that this did not cover the full range of scenarios where a pharmacy may have prepared for vaccinations that it was now unable to deliver, and called for the September start date of the programme to be reinstated.

This is a breaking news story, more to follow.