The government have announced 1.7 million new people have been identified as extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 and will be added to the shielded patient list in England.
We don’t yet know how many people with MS this includes and will update our information as soon as we know more. However, we don’t think people will be added on the basis of having MS alone.
Who is being added to the shielding list?
Some people currently in vaccine priority group 6 will now be moved into the shielded patient list. This will place them in priority group 4 and they will get their vaccine sooner.
Priority group 6 contains everyone with MS who’s not in groups 1-5. But only people identified by the government’s new tool (QCovid) will be moved up to group 4.
What factors does the QCovid tool use to predict risk?
The government’s new tool (QCovid) predicts the level of risk people face from COVID-19 based on their personal circumstances. Researchers looked at data on people who died or had severe effects from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
This showed some factors had a big influence. The main ones were age, sex assigned at birth, height, weight, ethnicity, some medical conditions like MS and being on immunosuppressive treatment.
Some of these risk factors have a bigger influence than others. And the impact of some factors increases on a sliding scale. For example, the older you are or the higher your body mass index (BMI) is, the higher the risk. Other factors affect men more than women, or women more than men.
The tool takes all these factors into account and if your risk is above a certain threshold you will be advised to shield. Predictive risk tools are already widely used across the NHS for other conditions.
How will I know if I’ve been added to the shielded patient list?
Letters and emails will be sent out to people affected from this week. Shielding involves limiting your contact with others, to protect yourself from getting COVID-19.
If you are contacted, you will have access to exactly the same support as other shielding people. Shielding guidance is being extended to 31 March when it will be reviewed (it was due to end 21 Feb).
Why are some people only being advised to shield now?
We understand this news may come as a shock. At the beginning of the pandemic, clinical experts and the government advised people to shield based on their understanding of what made people vulnerable to similar viruses.
But now we have real evidence about who’s been most affected by COVID-19. This gives us a better understanding of the underlying health conditions and other factors that determine someone’s risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
The government says it has taken time to develop an accurate way of predicting who is most at risk which can often take years, and we are the first country in the world to have developed something like this.
Why is this only happening in England?
Governments in each nation of the UK have been involved in developing the risk-prediction tool and are looking at whether and how to implement in each nation. The NHS in England was ready to use the tool. They decided to contact patients this week, so they can act to protect themselves as quickly as possible and be prioritised for the vaccine.
Every UK Government follows the same vaccine priority list.
Do I need to do anything?
No. You will be contacted if the change affects you. From the week beginning 15 Feb, you’ll receive a letter that explains why you’ve been moved. If you have an email address registered with your GP, you may also receive an email.
If you’re contacted and haven’t been invited for a vaccine yet, your GP will prioritise you and you’ll get a separate letter inviting you to book.
GPs are busy trying to vaccinate as many people as possible. However, if you have any concerns about being identified as at higher risk, you can contact them or the hospital doctor you usually see.
If you’ve already been advised to shield, there is no change to that advice. You should get a letter telling you shielding has been extended until 31 March. As before, this letter can be used as evidence for your employer. Letters will go out week beginning 15 Feb.
We'll update you with more information about this as soon as we have it.
Phillip Anderson, our Head of Policy says: “While we wholeheartedly support more people at higher risk from the virus being offered the vaccine sooner, being added to the list will have implications for someone's life far beyond their place in the vaccine priority list – from going to work to being able to access food and medication.
“The government must prioritise communicating these latest developments clearly and make sure comprehensive support is in place for all those who suddenly find they must make potentially drastic changes to their life.”