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#Public policy


In conversation with Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK

Five months after the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 was no longer a health emergency, the disease is back in the news after a spike in cases and the emergence of new variants. The World Health Organization recorded 1.4 million new cases in August, a monthly rise of nearly 40 per cent. Experts are keeping their eye on three new variants. The latest is BA.2.86, nicknamed Pirola, which has been detected in over a dozen countries, including the UK. It was Pirola that was responsible for a recent Covid outbreak in a Norfolk care home. As of 4 September, there have been 34 cases of the variant detected in the UK. Pirola has raised concerns because it has 34 mutations, which may help it evade protections built up by vaccines and infections. It does appear to be highly infectious. But early studies show that it’s no more severe than other recent variants and that it’s not leading to higher hospitalisation rates. That said, the NHS is being cautious. It has brought forward its autumn booster programme, offering jabs to those over the age of 65, carers, healthcare workers and the clinically vulnerable. But some public health experts would like to see the booster given to more groups. Even if most healthy people only suffer a mild illness there are work and school days lost to Covid, as well as the risk of spreading the virus to someone more vulnerable. One possibility is to allow Brits in less vulnerable groups to pay for boosters, as many people do with the yearly flu jab. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just recommended that its latest boosters be offered to everyone older than six months old.  This means that Americans will be able to pay for the jab this autumn, even if they’re not in a vulnerable group. That isn’t likely to be an option in the UK until at least next year.