Coronavirus guidance for very high-risk groups

What to expect and how to get support across the UK if you’re in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group.

On this page

What is shielding?
Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in England
Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Northern Ireland
Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Scotland
Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Wales
When will I get my COVID-19 vaccine if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?
I’m worried about shielding affecting my mental health – what can I do?
What help can I get if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?
Should I go to work if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?
Should my child go to school, college or nursery if they're clinically extremely vulnerable?
Getting the flu vaccine if you're clinically extremely vulnerable

 

Wait to be contacted

COVID-19 vaccines are now being rolled out across the UK. These are being offered in stages and when it’s your turn to get the vaccine, you'll be contacted. Our sister charity, the British Lung Foundation, has a COVID-19 vaccine FAQ, which will help to answer some of the questions you might have. 

 

While vaccines are being rolled out, we urge people to continue following the guidance in their area of the country, alongside social distancing, hand washing and other hygiene measures that will help protect us against COVID-19. 

People with severe asthma who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and aged under 70 are in priority group 4 for the COVID-19 vaccine. There isn’t a set timescale for when all the priority groups will be vaccinated. The government has indicated that all people who are in group 4 and above will be vaccinated by February, but this is dependent on various factors, such as capacity in the NHS. The advice is to wait until you’re invited and we’ll keep this page updated when we learn more

What is shielding?

Shielding means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people as much as possible. It’s used to protect people at highest risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19, known as the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group. Across much of the UK, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable are being asked to shield as coronavirus cases rise again

We are asking the Department of Health and Social Care for the criteria they are using to define severe asthma in terms of who is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) and will update our website when we know more.

However, it’s worth noting that if you were classed as clinically extremely vulnerable earlier in the pandemic, you still are now, unless you have been told otherwise by your GP or hospital clinician. You’ll also be sent a new letter in the post outlining the advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people in your area of the country.

Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in England

England is now under a national lockdown, meaning that people should only leave home for a limited number of reasons, including food shopping, medical appointments and exercise.

To find out more about what you can and can’t do during the lockdown, visit the government website.

The guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in England is to stay at home, apart from going out to exercise or attend a medical appointment. This means you need to:

You can read more about what shielding might mean for you on the government website. You’re encouraged to go outside for exercise, but this should be either by yourself, with your support bubble or the people you live with.

If your clinically extremely vulnerable, you’re advised not to visit any shops, including pharmacies. There’s help available if you need essentials delivered, such as food and medicines.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people are also advised not to form childcare bubbles during the national lockdown.  

Vitamin D 

If you’re staying indoors more, it’s important to get out for daily exercise and find ways to boost your mood, as this will help you stay fit and well. During the winter months, the NHS recommends taking a daily vitamin D supplement, as this helps to keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

If you live in England and are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group, you’ll be offered a free winter supply of vitamin D this season. You’ll get a letter in the post, explaining how you can get this delivered to you from January.

To opt-in to receive your free supply of vitamin D, you need register your details before Monday 11 January 2021 on the NHS website. 

Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Northern Ireland

Extra restrictions have been put in place in Northern Ireland to reduce the spread of coronavirus. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to be particularly careful in following the advice on social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene.

Formal shielding hasn’t been reintroduced, and people in this group are encouraged to go outside for exercise. The Chief Medical Officer will write to people on the clinically extremely vulnerable list to let them know what the updated guidance is.

Anyone who can’t go to their workplace because to this advice will be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay. You can use the CMO letter as evidence for your employer, similar to when shielding was introduced at the start of the pandemicMore advice and support can be found on the NI government website

Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Scotland

Scotland has entered a national lockdown. The advice for everyone is to stay at home, except for essential reasons You can read more about the stay at home guidance for Scotland on the government website.

Everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer, which sets out the advice for this group. You can still go outside, for exercise, essential shopping or medicines, but you should minimise contact with people outside your household. You’re encouraged to go outside for exercise and there are no restrictions on how often you can do this.

You should continue to work from home and avoid public transport. If you cant work from home, you shouldn’t go into work and your letter from the CMO will act as a fit note for as long as lockdown restrictions are in place.

Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Wales

All of Wales is at alert level 4. This means that people should stay at home as much as possible except for certain reasons, such as going to medical appointments. You’re encouraged to go outside for exercise and there are no restrictions on how often you can do this.

Shielding hasn’t been reintroduced. However, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to go into work or school. Everyone on the shielded patient list will receive a letter from the Welsh government detailing the updated guidance they should follow.

Read more about the guidance for people living in Wales

When will I get my COVID-19 vaccine if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?

People with severe asthma who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and aged under 70 are in priority group 4 for the COVID-19 vaccine. There isn’t a set timescale for when all the priority groups will be vaccinated, but the government has indicated that everyone in priority groups 1-4 will be vaccinated by mid-February.

Invitations to get the vaccine have started going out to the clinically extremely vulnerable group in England, but it will take some time before everyone is invited. When you get your invite and vaccine is also dependent on various factors, such as where you live and capacity in the NHS. The advice is to wait until you’re invited and we’ll keep this page updated when we learn more.

While vaccines are being rolled out, we urge people to continue following the guidance in their area of the country, alongside social distancing, hand washing and other hygiene measures that will help protect us against COVID-19. 

The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly developing situation and the most up-to-date information for people in the UK can be found on the NHS website.

I’m worried about shielding affecting my mental health – what can I do?

The coronavirus outbreak has been difficult for everyone, but especially if you’ve been shielding. Over the last few months, you may have felt worried, lonely, stressed, anxious and bored. 

Try to stay in touch with friends and family by phoning, texting or talking to them online. Keeping in touch with people is an important way to look after your mental wellbeing. If the thought of shielding is making you feel anxious, you might find it helpful to tell people how you’re feeling.  

There are also lots of organisations and resources available to help with your mental health and wellbeing:

Let’s Talk Loneliness

Every Mind Matters

Clear Your Head (Scotland)

Rethink

Mind

Mental Health Foundation

Samaritans

NHS Volunteer Responders may also be able to help through their ‘check in and chat plus’ service, which offers regular check-ins with a volunteer by telephone over 10 weeks. To arrange support for yourself or someone else call 0808 196 3646.

You could also speak to your doctor if you feel that your mental health issues are taking over your life.

What help can I get if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?

Support in England

It’s important that you continue to receive the care and support you need to help you stay safe and well.

The government has set up the National Shielding Support website, where you can register for support. Through this you can:

  • request access to a priority supermarket delivery slot. If you already have access to these, you’ll continue to get them. If you want to start getting priority supermarket delivery slots, you can do so through the website.   
  • tell your council if you need support to follow this guidance. This may be because you’re unable to arrange yourself and can’t be provided by friends, family or other support networks.
  • make sure your details, such as your address, are up to date.

You can register yourself, or on behalf of someone else. You’ll be asked for the NHS number of the person you’re registering for, which you can find on prescriptions or any letter from the NHS.

NHS Volunteer Responders

The NHS Volunteer Responders service is also continuing to offer support to people in England who need to self-isolate for any reason. They can also help people who choose to stay at home as much as possible because they are worried about going out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NHS Volunteer Responders service can support you with:

  • collecting shopping, medication and other essential supplies
  • a regular, friendly phone call
  • getting to medical appointments by offering lifts.


You can ask for this support by visiting the NHS Volunteer Responders Service website or by calling 0808 196 3646.

Help from local volunteers

You may also be able to get support from local volunteers – contact your local council for more details. You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Help from your local pharmacy

If your friends and family can’t collect any medicines you need, you can get them delivered to your house for free. Just contact your pharmacy to let them know you are clinically extremely vulnerable and need your medicines to be delivered.

Getting medical help

You can access a range of NHS services from home, including ordering repeat prescriptions or contacting your health professional through an online consultation. To find out more visit NHS Health at Home, or download the NHS App.

But remember, if you’re having a medical emergency, you need to call 999

Support in Northern Ireland

If you need help getting food, medicines and essential supplies, there is also help available through the COVID-19 Community Helpline. This is a freephone helpline to help vulnerable people access information, advice and support in relation to COVID-19.

Find out more advice for clinically vulnerable people in Northern Ireland.

You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Support in Scotland

The national COVID-19 helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, on 0800 111 4000. This is to provide help to people who may be at increased risk from COVID-19 and don’t have a support network.

This helpline connects callers to their local authority, who will help them access the service they need. This includes:

  • food and medication
  • links to local social work services for vulnerable children or adults
  • emotional support.

Read more about what support you can get if you’re a clinically extremely vulnerable person in Scotland.

You may also be able to get help and support from your local Mutual Aid group.

Support in Wales

If you’re on the shielded patients list in Wales, you can still get priority supermarket delivery slots. Speak to your pharmacy if you need help getting your medicines.

If you need it, you can also try getting help from your local authority or voluntary groups. Find your local authority in Wales if you’re not sure which one you’re in.

You can also get help and support from Third Sector Wales or your local Mutual Aid group.

Should I be going to work if I'm clinically extremely vulnerable?

Wherever you live in the UK, you should work from home if you can.

In England, Wales and Scotland, if you cannot work from home and are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group you are advised to not go into work.

In Northern Ireland, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to go into their workplace, unless they feel reassured that it is COVID-secure. If you can’t go into work because of this advice, you can claim Statutory Sick Pay. You can use the letter from the Chief Medical Officer as evidence, to show your employer.

You might be eligible to be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. You might also be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay or Employment Support Allowance (ESA). We would encourage you to talk to your employer to discuss your options. The letter you receive from the government can be used as evidence.

For more information on working in England if you’re clinically extremely vulnerable, check the government website.

For more advice for clinically extremely vulnerable workers in Northern Ireland, see the government website. 

For more information about returning to work safely in Scotland, see the government website. This includes a workplace risk assessment tool.

For more information on work and employment in Wales see the government website. This includes a workplace risk assessment tool. 

The Government advice is that employers must support vulnerable and at-risk workers to protect themselves. The Asthma UK Helpline nurses are unlikely to be able to advise about specific employment situations, but there is helpful guidance from ACAS about coronavirus and employment issues.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has advice on what to do if you live in the same household as someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable and need to go out of the house to work.

Should my child go to school, college or nursery if they're clinically extremely vulnerable?

Since the start of the pandemic, we have more evidence that there is a very low risk of children becoming unwell from COVID-19, even if they have existing health conditions. Because of this, most children who were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable at the start of the pandemic don’t need to shield again.

Speak to your GP or clinician if you’re not sure whether your child should still be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Schools across much of the UK are currently closed and have moved to online learning, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers.

Getting the flu vaccine if you're clinically extremely vulnerable

The seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19. However, it does help stop flu, which is common in the autumn and winter. It can make your asthma symptoms worse and even cause asthma attacks. This year, if you live in any part of the UK and are on the shielded patients list, both you and your whole household can get the free flu vaccine.

Read more about flu vaccinations if you’ve got asthma

Last updated on: Monday 18 January

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.