Professor Alasdair Coles, one of our MS medical advisers, answers your questions about COVID-19 and what changing shielding advice means for people with MS.
Please note this is general guidance and you should follow any advice from your MS team first and foremost.
Governments are saying it should be safe to stop shielding in August. Is this safe for people with MS?
It depends. Most people with MS don't need to shield and weren't advised to. Early research indicates having MS in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
The MS Society’s medical advisers generally agree that a person with MS can stop shielding - if the Government has said the risk from COVID-19 is low enough to recommend doing so. And we recommend taking certain precautions. Government advice is based on fewer people having the virus, which means anyone’s chance of coming into contact with it has declined.
However, it remains the case that some people may be more likely to catch COVID-19 or experience severe effects from the virus if they catch it. You can read about the few DMTs that can increase your risk and the wider risk factors to consider on the MS Society website. And you can read what the latest research suggests.
I would encourage you to consider all this information and advice. I would also think about what the impact of continuing to shield may be having on your wider health and wellbeing. Considering all of this in the round will help you make decisions about whether and when to go out, meet with people and so on. It’s a complicated picture and I know it’s not easy making these decisions.
If you're feeling uncertain about your own situation, I recommend contacting the MS Helpline to talk it over.
Can I visit a friend in their home? Or go to the supermarket?
It isn’t possible to ‘tell’ people what they can and can’t do unfortunately. Your ‘risk’ is always going to be a combination of your individual risk factors (age, treatments you are on and frailty etc) and your environment. Inevitably, some environments increase any individual’s likelihood of being exposed to infection.
You'll need to weigh up the risks and decide what is right for you. The next question gives you some advice how to minimise risks wherever you are.
What can I do to keep myself safe when going out and about?
When going outside, you should stick strictly to the latest social distancing rules the government recommends – and when meeting others outside your household or support bubble. Open spaces like parks or fields will generally be safest, rather than for example urban pavements.
You should minimise time in enclosed spaces like shops and public transport. This doesn’t include your workplace, as long as your employer has put measures in place to minimise risk of infection in line with Government guidance.
I hope UK governments will provide more detailed advice to help people understand what they can do to minimise risks when shielding guidance changes next month.
Is it safe for me to go back to work when shielding is officially paused in August?
The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 depends on the nature of your workplace and whether they have put measures in place to reduce that risk – making it so- called ‘covid-secure’.
For people with MS at higher risk especially, I’d recommend speaking to your MS team and your employer about a way of making that possible and safe.
My neurologist has told me to keep shielding beyond August because of the DMT I’m on. Should I continue shielding?
You should follow the advice of your MS team regarding treatments and the most appropriate social distancing for you. I know it might seem confusing if their advice is different from general advice for MS. However, there are many factors that contribute to each individual’s level of risk from infection and general advice cannot cover everyone’s circumstances.
Your MS team know you best. It’s really important to consult them before making any decisions about treatment.
What are MS services doing to make sure I can attend hospital appointments safely?
Most MS services are providing appointments virtually or by phone at this time, but where that is impossible for instance for DMT infusions, protective measures are being put in place. That means staff wearing appropriate PPE and social distancing measures as far as possible.
You will be told in advance what you might need to do or be aware of. You may be told to self-isolate for 14 days prior to a hospital procedure, in order to ensure you don’t have COVID-19 when you come into hospital, but this should not be required for most MS care or for DMT infusions.
It’s really important to attend appointments and seek help if you feel seriously unwell.