Today, 16 February, the government has announced a large expansion to the number of people being asked to shield in England.
On top of the 2.3 million people already on the shielding list, a further 1.7 million people will now be required to shield. Half of this group have not yet been vaccinated and will now be prioritised urgently by local GPs.
The announcement comes after a new model was developed to dictate who should shield, now taking into account extra factors rather than just health. The new calculation will include factors like ethnicity, deprivation and weight to decide on a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to catch coronavirus.
The new model was developed after work by Oxford University that looked at the characteristics of people who died in the first wave of the virus.
Currently, only people with specific conditions or undergoing certain types of treatment have been asked to shield, this includes adults with Down’s syndrome and people with severe respiratory conditions.
Those who have been added to the list but have yet to receive the first dose of the vaccine are thought to fall into one of the priority groups that are being invited for vaccinations next. These people will be bumped up the list for a vaccine, this means they will receive the offer of a vaccine a few weeks later than if they had been in the original shielding group.
The announcement came as a shock to many organisations who support people within this new group.
Phillip Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, says: “The sudden news that over 1.7 million people in England, including some with MS, are being added to the clinically extremely vulnerable shielding list will come as a huge shock.
“While we wholeheartedly support more people at higher risk from the virus being offered the vaccine sooner, being added to the list will have greater 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 ensure comprehensive support is in place for all those who suddenly find they must make potentially drastic changes to their life.”
Sense chief executive Richard Kramer welcomes the announcement but would also like to see more clarity on the next steps for this high risk group, he says: “Today’s announcement provides clarity and reassurance to a wider group of people who have been at higher risk of severe illness or death from the virus.
“Many of these adults will already have been effectively shielding since the start of the pandemic, without sufficient recognition. It is right that they are prioritised for vaccination and additional support.
“Sense are aware of many families and disabled adults who have been ‘shielding’ in all but name, despite not being included on the original list, and we hope that today’s announcement will provide clarity about those at higher risk and what steps they need to take to stay safe.”
If you have questions about the new shielding list and how this affects you, contact your local GP or health worker.