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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 Tuesday 1 December with new government advice in England from 2 December and for Christmas, and new advice for the festive period in Scotland. We updated on Wednesday 2 December with the new advice for Wales.

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 a second nation-wide lockdown is in place. But from 2 December the country will return to local restrictions, with 3 different levels (or ‘tiers’).   

For the lockdown ending on 2 December, the government published updated advice for people considered clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. 

From 2 December, government advice varies according to the tier you’re in, though some advice is the same wherever you are. The new advice also includes guidance for the Christmas period.

If you’re on the shielding list you should get an email or letter this week from the government about the new advice.

Advice includes avoiding large gatherings and keeping socially distanced from people not in your household. The guidance also highlights support for mental health and wellbeing. 

The government will only advise people to fully ‘shield’ - like in the first national lockdown - in some tier 3 areas (the tightest restrictions). And you should get a letter from the government if this applies to you. 

Why has shielding advice changed again?

The advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable is changing again because England is going back to local restrictions.

So from 2 December the advice is more cautious in, for instance, tier 3 than tier 2. In tier 3 it’s likely there are more people with COVID-19 in the area. 

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

Nation-wide shielding in Northern Ireland has been paused since 31 July.

Unless there are local restrictions, the Executive says people should follow the guidance for people who are generally vulnerable (sometimes called ‘clinically vulnerable’).

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 was shielding paused?

At the end of July the Executive said the advice could change because there were now fewer people with COVID-19, so the risk of catching it had gone down. Advice in your local area could be different if cases are higher. The BBC has updates on how many cases there are in your area

Changes to shielding advice in Scotland

Scotland has 5 levels of restrictions, called ‘COVID protection levels’. These have local rules for everyone. Level 0 is the most relaxed, level 4 the strictest. 

For each level, there’s extra advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable. There’s also specific advice for the festive period. 

If shielding advice changes, the government will write to everyone on the shielding list and text through the Scottish government SMS Shielding Service.

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 shielding advice has changed because generally the infection rates are low in Scotland. So their advice aims to give you more control over your life while minimising risk. But they still recommend a cautious approach, including keeping 2 metres from people who aren’t in your household.

Changes to shielding advice in Wales

Nation-wide shielding in Wales has been paused since 16 August.

As well as following the guidance and rules for everyone where you are, there is extra advice if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable. This includes precautions you can take, and support for your mental health and wellbeing. 

There’s also specific advice for the Christmas period, which highlights that forming a Christmas bubble does increase your risk of infection. 

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 is shielding paused?

In August the government said that shielding could be paused because infection rates in Wales went down. Although rates have gone up recently, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has not changed this advice for people on the shielding list. 

What if I’m not on the register of people considered ‘extremely clinically 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. Although nation-wide shielding is not recommended at the moment, there might be useful information and support you can access, especially if shielding is advised again in your area. 

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 'extremely clinically 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 Wednesday 2 December

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