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MS and coronavirus care and support

We’ve been talking to people across the UK about multiple sclerosis and COVID-19. These are some of the questions that crop up the most.

We’re working closely with our medical advisers and the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) to keep this page updated. So keep checking back for the latest information.

What's new?

We updated this page on Friday 7 January with updates to COVID-19 treatments available for people with MS

Follow these links for information

  1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?
  2. Are people with MS in the clinically extremely vulnerable group?
  3. How should I do social distancing if I’ve got MS?
  4. I have MS, what should I do if I catch COVID-19 or someone I live with does?
  5. How can I get COVID-19 treatments like molnupiravir, sotrovimab and Ronapreve?
  6. Can I still get hospital appointments, MS healthcare and social care during coronavirus restrictions?
  7. What's the latest on the coronavirus vaccines?
  8. Can I get help with shopping and prescriptions?
  9. Are there benefits or financial support I can claim?
  10. What rights and support do I have at work?
  11. MS, carers and care at home
  12. How can I get emotional help?

1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?

Early research indicates that having multiple sclerosis (MS) in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19. 

But some people with MS could be at greater risk of getting coronavirus, or of complications if they catch it. For example, that could be because of frailty or having long-term conditions besides MS. Researchers are continuing to monitor this.

Research presented in October 2021 also suggests that people with MS who do get COVID-19 could be more likely to experience 'long COVID'. 

Read advice from our medical advisers on calculating risk

Infections and relapses

We know infections (including viral infections) can increase the risk of relapses, though there’s limited evidence about COVID-19 specifically. You can read more on page 17 of our “Managing your relapses” booklet

DMTs and COVID-19

Studies so far indicate that in general being on a disease modifying therapy (DMT) for MS doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19 or having worse symptoms. But there are some specific cases where a DMT is likely to increase risk.

You should follow your MS team's advice about treatments and any extra social distancing measures they recommend.  

Read specific treatment advice on our DMTs and coronavirus page

Research into MS and coronavirus

There’s lots of research happening to help us learn more about multiple sclerosis and coronavirus. But as this coronavirus is so new, we don’t fully understand how it affects people with MS yet. Help us understand more about how the pandemic is affecting our community by taking the MS Register survey on coronavirus and MS

Are people with MS in the "higher risk" group?

Everyone with MS is technically in the "higher risk" group. This used to be called the "clinically vulnerable" group, and it's still called the "vulnerable" group in Northern Ireland.

Everyone with MS is technically in this group because MS can be associated with increased risks, depending on your symptoms, treatment or other factors. And the government's data doesn't hold that level of detail about each person.

The four UK governments define the "higher risk" or "vulnerable" group as being more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the average person, but not as much as people in the "highest risk" (or “clinically extremely vulnerable”) group. It's very similar to the group of people eligible for the free annual flu jab.

Government advice about social distancing for everyone in the clinically vulnerable group depends on the restrictions in your area.

2. Are people with MS in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) or “highest risk” group?

Some people with MS are considered "extremely clinically vulnerable" or in the "highest risk" group for COVID-19. This could be because of a particular treatment or the way your MS affects you. Or it could be a combination of things. 

Earlier in the pandemic, you might have received a shielding letter saying you’re clinically extremely vulnerable. Shielding programmes are paused across the UK, and the shielding list in England isn’t used anymore. But it’s still important to bear in mind you have higher underlying risks from COVID-19.

Your doctor should consider you to be clinically extremely vulnerable if you:

  • have significant difficulties with breathing or swallowing (for instance if you need artificial feeding)
  • have taken alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) within the last 4 weeks (or longer if specified by a clinician)
  • have had HSCT treatment in the last 12 months (speak to your MS team to understand at what point your risks will reduce)
  • have taken cladribine (Mavenclad), ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) within the last 6 months AND have 2 or more other risk factors listed below

You might also be considered clinically extremely vulnerable by your consultant or GP if 2 or more of the other risk factors below describe your situation.  

What else might put me at higher risk from COVID-19 if I have MS?

Early research indicates that having multiple sclerosis (MS) in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

But some people with MS could be at greater risk of getting coronavirus, or of complications if they catch it. There is also some evidence that vaccines may not have worked as well for some people with MS as for others.

Read our medical advisers’ statement on vaccines and DMTs

Making decisions around risk

We need more evidence to know for sure. But based on what we know now our medical advisers have estimated the risks for people with MS in different situations.

We hope this will help you make decisions about what situations you’re comfortable with.

You should also consider the number of coronavirus cases in your local area. If these are significantly higher than the national average, it may be best to take extra precautions regardless of your risk level.

Main extra risk factors

The main extra risk factors are:

  • you’re over 70
  • you have trouble with things like preparing meals and housework because of frailty
  • your frailty or MS symptoms mean you usually need an aid for walking, or you use a wheelchair (score 6.0 or higher on the Expanded Disability Status Scale)
  • you have another long-term health condition besides MS, especially obesity, high blood pressure (also called hypertension), or diabetes. See a fuller list of long-term conditions that also apply on the US National Library of Medicine website
  • you're pregnant
  • you’ve had a course of alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) or cladribine (Mavenclad) in the last 6 months
  • you’ve had a course of ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or rituximab in the last 12 months

Your MS team will be more familiar with your personal circumstances. So if they tell you to take precautions for any other reason it's very important you follow their advice.

How does my risk change if I’ve been vaccinated? 

Vaccination reduces the risks from COVID-19 for people with MS and is generally very safe. Booster jabs can help keep up the protection that vaccines give against COVID-19.

However, some DMTs might reduce the effectiveness of any vaccine because they prevent the immune system from mounting a complete immune response to the vaccine.

Our MS Society medical advisers, who are some of the leading clinicians for MS in the UK, have produced a consensus statement on DMTs and COVID-19 setting out the evidence around this in more detail.

3 categories of vaccine protection

Evidence around how effective vaccines are for different groups of people with MS is still emerging. Based on what we know right now, we think there are three categories of vaccine protection: 

Vaccine category A

You are fully vaccinated (you've had all primary doses, at least 2 weeks ago, and a booster if that's due) and you're treated with

  • glatiramer acetate (Copaxone and Brabio)
  • teriflunomide (Aubagio)
  • dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)
  • beta interferons
  • natalizumab (Tysabri)
  • cladribine (Mavenclad)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) more than 12 months ago
  • no treatment (not on a DMT)

People in this category with 0 - 1 extra risk factors are at similar level of risk as everyone else in the UK. If you have 2 or more extra risk factors, you’re at increased risk so should be extra careful to follow precautions.

Vaccine category B

You are fully vaccinated (you've had all primary doses, at least 2 weeks ago, and a booster when that's due) and around the time you were vaccinated you were treated with 

  • ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) less than 12 months ago
  • ofatumumab (Kesimpta)
  • rituximab
  • fingolimod (Gilenya)
  • ozanimod (Zeposia)
  • siponimod (Mayzent)

If this is you, even if you have 0 extra risk factors you are at increased risk, so should be extra careful. 

If you have 1 or 2 extra risk factors, you’re at higher increased risk, so should be even more careful to follow precautions.

Read more about the timings of these treatments and the vaccine

Vaccine category C

You are partially vaccinated (you haven't had all your primary doses or you had the final one within the last two weeks), or you're not vaccinated.

Until you’ve had all your primary doses of the vaccine and a booster, you're at higher increased risk than anyone who's fully vaccinated. So you should take full precautions. We know some people can’t have the vaccine for medical reasons. Unfortunately this does mean higher increased risk (unless you are in the very specific situation explained in the next section).

Generally we expect the vaccine will give at least some protection from COVID-19 for everyone with MS, so we encourage people to get it if possible, while acknowledging that this comes down to personal choice. 

I have MS, but no recent relapses or symptoms

If you have MS, but you

  • have no other risk factors
  • are not taking a DMT 

Your risk is similar to everyone else in the UK’s. This means if you have been vaccinated your risk is similar to another vaccinated person. And if you haven’t your risk is similar to another unvaccinated person.

As with everyone, getting vaccinated reduces risks from COVID-19 both for you and those around you.

Precautions for people who have increased or higher increased risk

People who have increased or higher increased risk could consider additional precautions like: 

  • wherever possible requesting to work from home, if this is not possible asking your employer to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment in light of your higher risks
  • avoiding crowded places, especially indoors (for example shops or public transport at peak times)
  • where possible asking friends and family to undertake home COVID tests before social gatherings
  • more generally following the advice for people at higher risk set out by your government and the NHS, or their advice for immunosuppressed people if that applies to you

Read the NHS COVID-19 advice for people people at higher risk

3. How should I do social distancing if I’ve got MS?

General guidance for everyone about social distancing includes:

  • limiting the number of people you meet
  • keeping a distance of 1 or 2 metres from people outside your household
  • washing your hands regularly
  • using a face covering 

If you’re worried about people not social distancing, you can carry a card, lanyard or badge that encourages other people to keep their distance.

Each UK nation has its own detailed guidance and rules about how social distancing applies.

England

Because of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, the UK government announced that:

  • From Friday 10 December, everyone must wear a face covering in most indoor places, unless you’re medically exempt. Everyone must already wear a face covering in shops and on public transport, and staff and pupils at secondary schools are strongly advised to wear face coverings in communal areas 
  • From Monday 13 December 2021, everyone should work from home if they can. Read more about work and MS during COVID-19
  • From 15 December, everyone over 18 needs an NHS COVID Pass to get into lots of venues, including sports events and nightclubs. The pass proves you’ve had 2 primary doses of the vaccine, a negative test within 48 hours, or that you have an exemption. You can get the pass through the NHS app, online at NHS.uk, or by calling 119 for a letter 
  • Anyone who's been in contact with a suspected Omicron case must self-isolate - even if they're fully vaccinated

Other social distancing guidance is still in place, including: 

  • meet people outdoors when possible
  • let in fresh air when you’re indoors
  • limit the close contact you have with people outside your household, and the time you spend with them in close contact

The government makes it clear that everyone should consider the risks to themselves and those around them. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are still more at risk of being seriously ill from COVID-19.

If you're in the "highest risk" group (clinically extremely vulnerable), there's extra government guidance. It also includes specific guidance if you're immunosuppressed (for example because of certain MS treatments). If you were on the shielding list, you should have had a letter from the government about things to consider.

Read the government's guidance for people in the highest risk group (clinically extremely vulnerable)

We’re all comfortable with different levels of risk. If you’re worried about people not social distancing, you might want to carry a card, lanyard or badge that encourages other people to keep their distance.

The NHS has information if you’re worried about coming out of lockdown.

And you can call our MS Helpline if you’d like to talk to someone: 0808 800 8000 

Read the latest UK government guidance and rules for England

Scotland

In Scotland, there are 5 levels of alert for different areas of the country, from 0 to 4. 

From 9 August 2021, almost all legal restrictions ended. This moves the country as a whole to below level 0, though not every restriction has gone. And on 14 December, the government announced new guidance including: 

  • minimise any social contact before and after Christmas - meet up with no more than 3 households at one time, and test for COVID-19 before you meet up
  • keep your main family gathering at Christmas as small as possible 

Other measures stay in place, including rules to wear face coverings for indoor public places and on public transport (unless you’ve got a medical reason not to). And they still advise working from home where possible.

The Scottish government still gives general advice saying people should: 

  • get the vaccine when you are offered it
  • wear a face covering, clean hands and surfaces regularly
  • avoid crowded places and keep your distance from other people where possible
  • meet outside if you can, and open windows when indoors
  • if you have symptoms get a test and stay at home
  • take regular tests if you don’t have symptoms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus
  • use the Protect Scotland and Check-in Scotland apps

Guidance for employers and employees has been updated by the Scottish government, to help minimise risks.

If you're considered "highest risk" (clinically extremely vulnerable), the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland will be writing to you with advice and information about changes. The government has also published support and guidance for people who were on the shielding list (now called the "highest risk list"). 

We’re all comfortable with different levels of risk. The chance to be close to friends and family might be wonderful news to you, but if you’re worried about people not social distancing, you might want to carry a card, lanyard or badge that encourages other people to keep their distance. Call our MS Helpline if you’d like to talk to someone: 0808 800 8000 

Free COVID 19 tests are now available for people who don’t have any symptoms. You can order them online from NHS Inform

Read more about COVID-19 guidance in Scotland

Northern Ireland

On 23 November 2021, the Northern Ireland Executive emphasised their continuing advice for everyone to work from home if possible. 

Read more about your rights and support at work since COVID-19

Other restrictions include a limit of 15 people from 4 households meeting in a private home. Children under 12 don’t count towards this total. 

There are now no restrictions on how many people can meet in a private garden. 

The Executive has guidance on social distancing and other measures to help control the risks in different settings. This includes: 

  • The closer you are to others, the higher the risk, so the risk is higher at 1 metre than at 2 metres away from someone 
  • The level of risk increases if there are no other measures taken, like hand washing, face coverings and protective screens, or good ventilation 
  • Outdoors is lower risk than indoors 
  • The highest risk is in an indoor, crowded, poorly-ventilated space for a long period of time

The Northern Ireland Executive recommends everyone who's "vulnerable" is especially careful about wearing a face covering, social distancing, limiting household contacts, and hand hygiene. "Vulnerable" includes everyone with MS (this is not the same as "clinically extremely vulnerable"). 

There's guidance from the Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer for anyone considered clinically extremely vulnerable. This includes advice on returning to the workplace if home working isn’t possible (since 12 April). 

The MS Society Resource Centre in Belfast isn’t fully open at the moment, but some one-to-one services have started up again. And you can get in touch by email and phone as usual.

Read the current Northern Ireland Public Health Agency social distancing guidelines

Wales

In Wales, new rules from 26 December 2021 (Boxing Day) include:

  • groups of no more than 6 people can meet up in pubs, cinemas and restaurants 
  • people from different households have to keep a 2 metres apart in public places and workplaces
  • bigger meetings will be limited to 50 people outdoors and 30 people indoors

Some other restrictions come into place from 27 December, including new protective measures in shops, businesses and workplaces. Nightclubs will be closed.  

People should still: 

  • work from home wherever possible
  • wear face coverings in many places indoors, unless you don't wear one for medical reasons 

The government is asking everyone to do what's sensible to protect themselves and others, not just do what the law allows. Their guidance includes:  

  • get both jabs and when invited, get your booster
  • limit your contacts
  • outdoors is safer than indoors
  • do a lateral flow test before seeing others
  • if you have symptoms, self-isolate and book a PCR test
  • wear a face covering

If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable, you should have had a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales. This includes extra precautions you might want to take, and support that’s available. You can also find further guidance if you're clinically extremely vulnerable on the Welsh government website.  

Read the latest Welsh government social distancing guidelines 

Can I get a contact tracing phone app for COVID-19?

Contact tracing apps for mobile phones are now available in every UK nation. These apps could help control the spread of coronavirus. The contact tracing app for England and Wales will also give you local risk updates and a COVID-19 symptom checker.

They don’t pass on details of your location to the NHS. That information stays on your phone. But they can tell you if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for coronavirus. And if you test positive, it can tell people you’ve been close to so they can self-isolate. It doesn’t tell them who you are or where you are.

Get the England and Wales COVID-19 tracing app

Get the Scotland COVID-19 tracing app

Get the Northern Ireland COVID-19 tracing app

Can I form a support bubble or "extended household" if I've got MS?

At the moment there are no rules about support bubbles or extended households in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

When these rules are in place, you can be part of a support bubble or "extended household", so it’s easier in lockdown to see close friends or family who don’t live with you. There are different rules for support bubbles in each nation. But generally they mean you can think of yourselves as one household for most coronavirus guidelines. You should check for local restrictions that affect the guidance.

Read more about extended households in Scotland

Support bubble precautions

Everyone should take any extra precautions that the households usually take - for example if anyone is at higher risk from COVID-19, or one of the bubble has a lot of contact outside the house. Find out more about working out your risk from COVID-19 

Should I wear a face mask if I go out?

The rules and guidance on face coverings vary across the UK. 

In all four UK nations, face coverings are still legally required in certain situations. In England, the rule to wear them on public transport and in shops was brought back on 29 November 2021.   

Wearing a face covering is not a replacement for proper social distancing and good hygiene. But it might help protect other people if you’re infected with coronavirus – even if you don’t have coronavirus symptoms.

If you have coronavirus symptoms, you and your household (or support bubble) should self-isolate. Wearing a face covering doesn’t change this.

The UK government has a guide to making face-coverings at home. And the Welsh government has a video explaining how to make a 3-layer face covering which they recommend.

It’s important to wash your hands before putting your covering on and taking it off. And we should all avoid touching our faces as much as possible, whether we’re wearing a face covering or not. Coverings should be washed after every use, or thrown away if they’re disposable.

Each government has written guidance which says face coverings could be useful if you’re in a small space and social distancing isn’t possible. 

In some cases, these are rules people can be fined for breaking. Each nation also has guidance for face coverings in schools. 

Read more about what schools do to reduce the risks of COVID-19

If you can't wear a face covering

If your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering, or take it on or off, you don’t have to wear one.

You don’t need to prove you’re exempt. But if you feel more comfortable letting people know, you can download a badge to print off or show on your phone from the UK government website. 

4. I have MS, what should I do if catch COVID-19 or someone I live with does?

If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Check as soon as possible if you have COVID-19 with a PCR test – that’s a test that needs sending to a lab for the results. Find out more about getting a PCR test if you've got MS 
  • Stay at home and don’t have visitors (except for essential care) until you get your test result – only leave your home if you need to for a test 

People you live with or you've been in contact with might need to self-isolate as well. Check all the self-isolation rules for your nation. 

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital in person. You don't need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home.

If you have a positive lateral flow test and you've got MS you should still do a PCR test to confirm the result. That way, if you have symptoms you'll be eligible for a COVID-19 treatments assessment. 

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new, continuous cough – this means you've started coughing repeatedly
  • you lose your normal sense of smell or taste, or notice it changes (the medical term for this is anosmia)

With most DMTs, you can usually carry on taking them if you have mild COVID-19 symptoms. Don't stop taking a DMT without medical advice. Read more about DMTs if you get COVID-19

Read the English rules for on self-isolating from the UK government 

Read the Welsh government rules on self-isolating

Read the Scottish rules on self-isolating at NHSinform

Read the Northern Ireland government rules on self-isolating

Test and trace support payments

In England, Wales and Scotland, if you’re told to self-isolate by the test and trace service you might be able to get a support payment of £500, to help cover lost earnings. In Northern Ireland, you might be able to get other financial support if you’re told to self-isolate. 

Find out more about financial support if you’re told to self-isolate

Support with care, shopping and keeping active if you need to self-isolate

5. How can I get COVID-19 treatments like molnupiravir, sotrovimab and Ronapreve?

If you've got MS and you get COVID-like symptoms and a positive PCR test, you're eligible for one of the new COVID-19 treatments, including molnupiravir, sotrovimab and Ronapreve. 

A local NHS team called the COVID Medicines Delivery Unit  (CMDU) will discuss the options with you if you get a positive PCR test.

If you're testing as a precaution with lateral flow tests and you get a positive result, you should follow it up with a PCR test. 

Unless there’s a specific medical reason, everyone with MS aged 12 or more is eligible, not only those considered “clinically extremely vulnerable”.

Get a PCR test if you have COVID-like symptoms

Anywhere in the UK, if you have MS you can order a priority PCR test if you get COVID-like symptoms. Call 119 and let the operator know you’d be eligible for COVID-19 treatments if you get a positive result. That way, they can request a priority test. 

In Scotland, you can also order a priority test online. NHS Inform says because you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatments you should say "yes" when asked if the test is for an essential worker.

Across the UK, if you don’t get your test result after 48 hours, call 119 and let them know you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatments if it’s positive. 

Priority tests should say "priority test" on the instruction leaflet that comes with them. But you can still use a test if it isn’t a priority one – or if you book your test another way (for example through your work, or at a test centre). If it’s positive, you can still access treatments. 

If your PCR test is positive

If your PCR test result is positive, you should hear from the NHS in England, Northern Ireland or Wales within 24 hours to discuss your treatment options. If you haven't heard by then, call your GP (or 111 out of hours) who can refer you.

In Scotland, if you get a positive PCR result, find your local health board's COVID team and call them to arrange an assessment. 

Taking the treatments 

Molnupiravir is taken as a tablet. So someone can collect it for you or you can have it delivered to your home.

Sotrovimab and Ronapreve are given as an infusion at a clinic. When the NHS contact you to discuss your treatment option, they should also discuss how you can get safely to and from the clinic. 

Priority PCR tests to keep at home

You might get a priority PCR test sent automatically to keep at home in case you notice symptoms. If you’re in England, you should receive one of these by 10 January 2022. If you haven’t, you can order one. 

In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales we don’t yet know the definite plans for people to get a test in the post. We’ll update when we know more. 

If you don’t get a test through the post, you can call 119 and choose the 'test and trace' option. To make sure you can get a priority test kit, let them know that although you have no symptoms:

  • "I've been told to get a test by my local council, health protection team or healthcare professional"
  • and that it was your "GP or other healthcare professional" who told you to do that  

To order a priority PCR test online in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, select the ‘no symptoms’ option when asked, and then the same responses as for the phone.  

To order a priority PCR test online in Scotland, NHS Inform say that because you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatments you should say "yes" when asked if the test is for an essential worker.

If you think you’ve been missed off the COVID treatments list

If you think you've been missed off the list of people who are eligible for these treatments, you can call your GP or 111 to discuss it. 

Being on the list in England, Wales or Northern Ireland should mean you get contacted automatically about treatments if you get a positive result. 

If you have trouble getting these treatments

If you have any difficulty accessing these treatments, please get in touch with us so that we can raise the kinds of issues people are having with the NHS.

Find out more about COVID-19 treatments 

6. Can I still get hospital appointments, MS healthcare and social care during coronavirus restrictions?

You should contact your MS team as you normally would. Our medical advisers stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell.

We know many MS services have been disrupted during the pandemic and this has resulted in long waiting times for some care. So it might be more difficult to get appointments for routine things like annual reviews. You're likely to be offered an appointment by phone or video call where it's not essential to be seen face to face.

Remember, always contact your team if:

  • you have signs of a relapse
  • you go to hospital for any reason (even if you’re not admitted)
  • you’re considering any changes to how you take your DMT

Social care services and the Coronavirus Act

The Coronavirus Act and Coronavirus (Scotland) Act could affect your social care services if you live in England, Wales or Scotland.

Read our Coronavirus Act news story to find out how it applies across the UK

DMT homecare delivery service

If you have homecare services to deliver your DMT, generally these should carry on without a problem. If they are delayed or you have any difficulties contact your MS team immediately.

You’re not alone we can help

Talk to someone on the phone

We're here for you. If you’re worried about your MS and coronavirus and want to chat to someone, call our MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.

Chat online

If you'd like to talk your worries through online with other people who know MS, visit our Online Community Forum today.

Or join one of our Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK.

Ask an MS health expert

Or you could sign up for an information webinar. We've got plenty to choose from, take a look at our online sessions and see what suits you.

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