Coronavirus guidance for high-risk groups

Up-to-date advice for people who are at higher risk from severe COVID-19.

Find out what to do now if you were in the clinically extremely vulnerable group (CEV), formerly known as the ‘shielding group’.

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If you think you have coronavirus symptoms…

such as a fever, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, get advice from the NHS 111 online service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

Who was considered clinically extremely vulnerable with asthma?

People were regarded as clinically extremely vulnerable if they were at very high risk of severe illness as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), and had a greater chance of being admitted to hospital. Some people with asthma were in this group if they had severe asthma or another condition that made them clinically extremely vulnerable.

At the start of the pandemic, anyone considered at much higher risk from COVID-19 was asked to shield. Shielding was introduced as a way to protect the most vulnerable from serious illness from the virus. The shielding programme has now ended in England.

Why has the shielding programme ended?

People in the clinically extremely vulnerable group, who were asked to shield at the start of the pandemic, are now advised to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population. The government paused the shielding programme in April and it has now been confirmed that the shielding programme has closed in England. 

This means that anyone who was in the clinically extremely vulnerable group is no longer required to shield. 

In England, if you were on the shielded patient list, you will get a letter telling you the list has closed.

Experts will continue to assess the risks from COVID-19 to the most vulnerable, but given what they know about the virus now, it is thought unlikely that people will be asked to shield again.

COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, but the situation is now very different to how it was at the start of the pandemic.

For example, in the UK we now have:

  • a vaccination programme, including a booster programme
  • the Test, Trace and Isolate system which helps prevent transmission of the virus
  • up-to-date expert advice from the government on how to manage your own risk
  • free availability of lateral flow tests
  • new drugs available to treat serious illness. 

There is different guidance available for people living in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

What can I do to keep myself safe?

We should all be doing what we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to help protect ourselves and others.

If you were previously on the clinically extremely vulnerable list (formerly the shielding group), you may be feeling anxious about the government’s decision to end the shielding programme and wondering how you can keep yourself safe.

Coronavirus vaccine and booster for high-risk groups

Coronavirus vaccine

Everyone aged 12 and over who is considered at higher risk from COVID-19, or who lives with someone who is immunosuppressed can get the coronavirus vaccine.

If you are at higher risk of coronavirus, or live with someone who is immunosuppressed, and have not yet had your vaccine you should book one as soon as possible.

Find out more about who can get the coronavirus vaccine and who in younger age groups is eligible for two doses.

You can also find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine on the vaccine FAQs at our sister charity, British Lung Foundation

Booster vaccine

The government has announced a COVID-19 vaccine booster programme this autumn to give those at higher risk extra protection from coronavirus this winter.

People aged 16 to 49 with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 will be eligible for a single dose of the booster vaccine. People aged 16 and over who live someone who is immunosuppressed will also get the booster.

For people with asthma, you will be eligible if your asthma is poorly controlled. The British Thoracic Society defines poorly controlled asthma as:

  • Two or more courses of steroid tablets in the last 24 months OR
  • Taking steroid tablets every day for asthma OR
  • One or more hospital admission for asthma in the last 24 months.

If you're eligible you will be invited for your booster at least six months after your second COVID-19 vaccine. Boosters will be given in order of priority (groups 1 – 9). 

Most people will have the Pfizer vaccine for the booster (regardless of which vaccine you had for your first and second doses). A half dose of the Moderna vaccine has also been approved for use.

The NHS will contact you when it’s your turn to have your booster vaccine. 

Third primary dose of the vaccine for immunosuppressed people

A small group of people aged 12 and over with a severely weakened immune system are also being offered a third primary dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the initial vaccine programme. 

The British Thoracic Society (BTS) has said this will include some people with a lung condition (such as asthma) who are on certain steroid doses. The JCVI has full details of who is eligible.

The third primary dose should be given at least eight weeks after the second dose, but timings may be affected if the person is on any immunosuppressive therapies. Your specialist will tell you if you’re eligible for a third primary dose.

The third primary dose is separate to the winter booster vaccine campaign.

Getting your flu jab

If you have been invited to book your flu vaccine, don’t delay getting protected against flu. More people are expected to get flu this year, and if you get flu and Covid-19 at the same time you’re more at risk of being seriously ill.

You may be offered a flu jab at the same time as your COVID vaccine although not all centres will be able to offer both.

If you are offered both jabs, the JCVI has advised that the COVID vaccine and flu vaccine can be safely given at the same time.

Watch the NHS film on winter vaccines.


Last updated on: Tuesday 12 October 2021

Free advice for everyone - but at what cost?

As a charity, Asthma UK provides free health advice to millions of people through our Website and our specialist nurses Helpline - a team dedicated to offering life-changing advice over the phone.

As the UK's leading asthma charity, now more than ever before people need our help, yet COVID-19 has devastated our ability to raise vital funds! For us to continue being there for everyone who needs us, we need your support.

If you've benefited from this advice on face coverings today, if you can please make a small donation to help ensure we can give you the support you need now and in the future.


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