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MS, coronavirus and shielding

Some people with MS have been told they’re ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to the effects of COVID-19. If you’re in this group you'll need to think about the extra steps we talk about here.

Everyone with MS is officially classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ to the effects of COVID-19. But you might be considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ if you have serious problems with breathing or swallowing, or your MS treatment involves certain drugs that affect the immune system. 

We updated this page on Wednesday 31 March with updates to shielding advice in Northern Ireland  

Scroll down to find the latest on shielding in each UK nation.

Letters and shielding lists UK-wide

If you’ve had a letter advising you to shield, you’ll stay on the shielding list for as long as you’re considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ – in case things change and restrictions need to come in again.

Follow the guidance for people considered clinically extremely vulnerable to make sure you get the latest national and local government advice.

Changes to shielding advice in England

From 31 March, the advice to shield in England is due to be paused. 

One of the changes in the government advice will be around work. People considered clinically extremely vulnerable will be able to return to the workplace if they can’t work from home. Until then, the advice is still not to go into work if you’re shielding, even if you’ve had both your doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Find out more about your rights at work during COVID-19 

If you’re on the shielding list you should get a letter from the government with details of the new advice. The letters were sent out in the week ending Friday 19 March. At the moment, you can still show your previous shielding letter to your employer instead of a GP fit note. 

Current shielding advice includes avoiding large gatherings and keeping socially distanced - including from people in your own household where possible. It also highlights support for mental health and wellbeing. 

On 16 February 2021 the government announced another 1.7 million people in England will be added to the shielding (also known as clinically extremely vulnerable) list and will move into vaccine group 4. If you're moved into the shielding list the government will contact you to let you know.

Why has shielding advice changed again?

The advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable is changing because there are fewer people with COVID-19 across the country, and because lots of people have now been vaccinated.

Can I get support with food, prescriptions and my mental health?

Food and medicine boxes and medicine deliveries from the National Shielding Service have stopped. But there is still other support available, like priority supermarket delivery slots which will be in place until 21 June (as long as you’re registered by 31 March).

The NHS Volunteers Scheme is also still available to anyone, whether shielding or not.

If you’re worried about support, get in touch with your local council to see how they can help.

If you feel you need support with your mental health, don’t hesitate to contact a local health professional, like your GP, at once. There’s also support available at the NHS Every Mind Matters website.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Changes to shielding advice in Northern Ireland

Until 11 April, the Chief Medical Officer advises that if you’re ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ you should only work if you can work from home.    

The advice says you should still go outside for exercise if you usually would, keeping up good social distancing. 

From 12 April, if you can’t work from home, the shielding advice will say you can go to the workplace, as long as your employer makes sure there is social distancing, and if you can travel to work with social distancing. 

Find out more about your rights at work during COVID-19 

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions? 

The Food Parcel Service for people shielding has stopped, but the COVID-19 Community helpline can still help you find other support for getting food and medicines.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why has shielding changed?

The Executive says the changing guidance is because of the 'improving picture' around the virus in Northern Ireland.

The Chief Medical Officer and his team review the advice regularly, to reflect the changing situation.  

Changes to shielding advice in Scotland

In Scotland, there are 5 levels of alert for different areas of the country. They’re numbered 0 to 4. Level 4 has the most severe restrictions on social contact.

For each level, there’s extra advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable. 

At the moment, everywhere in level 4 has ‘stay at home’ guidance, until 2 April, when the message will change to 'stay local'.

From 26 April, the advice to shield is due to be paused. This means that people considered clinically extremely vulnerable can return to their workplace. Until then, the advice is still not to go into work if you’re shielding, even if you’ve had both your doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Find out more about your rights at work during COVID-19 

If you’re on the shielding list you should get a letter from the government’s Chief Medical Officer with details of the new advice. The letters are being sent out in the week ending Friday 19 March. At the moment, you can still show your previous shielding letter to your employer instead of a GP fit note. 

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

The weekly grocery packs for people shielding have stopped, but there’s a helpline if you need support from your local council: 0800 111 4000. And you can still get updates through the SMS Shielding Service.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why is shielding changing again?

The government says their advice aims to give you more control over your life while minimising risk. But they still recommend a cautious approach, with different advice depending on the level of COVID protection level in your area. 

Changes to shielding advice in Wales

Until 31 March, Welsh government advice if you're 'clinically extremely vulnerable' says you shouldn't go to work or school outside your home.

The advice says that you can still go outside to exercise and also to attend medical appointments. And you can be part of a support bubble, as long as you take care to minimise the risks as much as possible. 

From the beginning of 1 April shielding will be paused. If you’re on the shielding list, you should get a letter from the Chief Medical Officer about this in the next few weeks. The shielding list will be kept in case they need to give different advice in future. 

The general guidance around social distancing is likely to be the same as for everyone else in Wales. The Welsh government will publish full details on 31 March.

Government advice will say that from 1 April you can go to work, if you can’t work from home - as long as the business has taken reasonable measures to minimise risk to employees. 

Find out about your rights at work during COVID-19 if you’ve been shielding

Read the latest Welsh government guidance if you're clinically extremely vulnerable

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

Food boxes have stopped, but priority supermarket delivery slots are still happening. If you’re worried about support, you can find contact details of your local authority or voluntary organisation from the Welsh government website.

Find out about support with shopping and prescriptions

Why has the shielding advice changed?

The Welsh government says the advice can change on 1 April because there are fewer cases of COVID-19 across Wales. 

What if I’m not on the register of people considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19? 

If you think you or a loved one are in the highest risk category, and haven’t had a letter or been contacted by your GP, get in touch with your GP or hospital doctor by phone or online for advice. Even when nation-wide shielding is not recommended, there might be useful information and support you can access.  

Should I get the seasonal flu vaccine?

The seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, but it helps stop flu that’s especially common in the autumn and winter. You can get a free flu jab if you’ve got MS, and so can your carer or partner. And this year, all UK governments plan to offer the vaccine to your whole household if you're on the shielding list (those people considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable' to the new coronavirus). 

Our medical advisers say you should leave at least a 7-day gap between getting the flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccination. Read their full statement on MS treatments and COVID-19 vaccines   

Read more about getting the flu jab and other vaccines if you’ve got MS

What are my rights at work if I’ve been shielding?

If the government or your doctor have recommended you shield, you should work from home if at all possible if shielding is in place. And your employer should help you to do that. When shielding is paused, you can return to work if your employer has made the workplace ‘COVID secure’. All UK governments still say employers should help people to work from home where possible.

Find out more about working when you or your loved one have MS

Remember you're not alone

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.

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

You can join one of our Time to Chat or Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK. 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.

We updated this page on Wednesday 31 March

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