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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.

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. 

Everyone with MS is officially classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ to the effects of COVID-19 (rather than ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’). So if you’ve got MS you’re advised to follow the guidelines on social distancing, handwashing and face coverings especially closely. If you’re not clinically extremely vulnerable, you can find out more about your risks from COVID-19 here. 

We updated this page on Monday 11 January with updates to the shielding advice in England.

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

In England, the Prime Minister has announced the advice is to shield again. This is part of the national lockdown. 

The advice includes only working from home, 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. 

Everyone on the shielding list should get a letter confirming this new guidance some time before 17 January. You can show the letter to your employer instead of a GP fit note. 

Why has shielding advice changed again?

The advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable is changing again because England has a national lockdown to control the spread of the virus. 

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 and the NHS Volunteers Scheme.

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

From 26 December, the Chief Medical Officer advises that if you’re ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ you should only work if you can work from home.    

You should receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer confirming the new advice. You can use this letter as evidence if you need to claim Statutory Sick Pay. Until you get the letter, you can use the original letter that confirmed you were ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. 

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

This advice will be in place for 6 weeks to start with. It’ll be reviewed after 4 weeks, at the same time as the restrictions for everyone are looked at.  

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?

At the end of July the Executive said ‘shielding’ could pause because there were fewer people with COVID-19, so the risk of catching it had gone down. The Chief Medical Officer and his team review the advice regularly, to reflect the changing situation. 

The Executive says that new advice and restrictions from December 2020 are because the ‘new variant’ of COVID-19 can spread more easily, and because of the pressures on health care services.  

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. 

From 5 January, everywhere in level 4 has new ‘stay at home’ guidance, until at least the end of January. This includes stricter rules on socialising and travel.

There is already Scottish government advice for each alert level if you're considered 'extremely clinically vulnerable'. But the new Scottish government ‘stay at home’ guidance includes further advice for ‘shielding’

The government is writing to everyone on the shielding list confirming the new advice. The advice is not to go into work if you’re shielding. You can show the 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 has shielding changed?

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

From 22 December, Welsh government advice if you're 'clinically extremely vulnerable' says you shouldn't go to work or school outside your home.

If you're on the 'shielding' list, you should get a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales confirming this advice. You can use this letter as evidence if, for example, you need to claim Statutory Sick Pay. These letters might be delayed because of the festive period. The government announcement asks employers to take note of the new advice and to support their employees to follow it.  

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. 

This advice will be reviewed every 3 weeks, at the same time as reviewing the alert levels across Wales. 

Can I still get support with food and prescriptions?

Food boxes have stopped, but priority supermarket delivery slots are still happening. The prescription delivery service will continue until the end of September. 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 govenment says the advice changed on 22 December because of a number of things. These include the fast rise in COVID-19 cases and pressures on the health service. 

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). 

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 Monday 11 January

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