What should people with asthma do now?

Understand when you might expect to get your COVID-19 vaccine if you have asthma

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.

 

If you are not eligible yet

Wait to be contacted. The NHS will let you know when it's your turn to have the vaccine. It's important not to contact the NHS for a vaccination before then. 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 in the meantime.

 

This page helps you understand how you can reduce your risk of catching or becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

You should always follow the government guidance for your area, to make sure you are taking sensible steps to reduce the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19.

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.

I have asthma. Am I more likely to become seriously ill if I catch COVID-19?

During the course of the pandemic, the evidence around who with asthma is most at risk has changed. In the early part of the pandemic, we didn’t know much about how asthma affected risk, but there is now clearer evidence from large studies in the UK.

At the start of the pandemic, the Government indicated that people with asthma who were entitled to get the flu jab were clinically vulnerable. This is because flu is one of the top triggers for asthma attacks and the assumption was that, as COVID-19 was a respiratory condition, it would have a similar impact on people with asthma. However, since then, scientists and clinicians have been able to gather more evidence on who is developing complications from COVID-19 and we now know more about who with asthma is most at risk.

How your asthma affects your risk seems to be mainly linked to how well controlled it is. People with well controlled asthma that is not severe don’t seem to be at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

People at higher clinical risk are those who either:

  • have severe asthma
  • need regular or continuous oral steroids
  • have a history of asthma attacks that have required an overnight stay in hospital.

As a result, many of these people will be in the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) group.

However, if you have any type of asthma there is a small increase in the risk of needing to go to hospital if you get COVID-19. Although the risk of this happening is small, it’s still very important to follow the restrictions in your area of the country and manage your condition well. This includes taking your preventer medicines as prescribed and following your asthma action plan. This is particularly important if you have severe asthma and are clinically extremely vulnerable.  

It’s also important to remember that your own level of risk is affected by many different interacting factors. Your asthma may play a part in your level of risk from coronavirus, but your risk is also affected by lots of other things too, particularly your age. 

What are the main factors that could make a person seriously ill with COVID-19?

Public Health England has identified the main factors that increase the risk of catching and becoming seriously ill with coronavirus as:

  • being older
  • being obese (with a BMI over 30)
  • your ethnic background
  • a weakened immune system
  • having an underlying health condition (including asthma)
  • being a man
  • your job – your risk level is higher if you work outside your home and come in to contact with lots of people every day
  • where you live - if lots of people in your area are infected with coronavirus, it’s more likely you’ll catch it. Find official coronavirus statistics for your area.

However, Public Health England may update this guidance if the scientific advice or spread of coronavirus changes. Many of these factors are connected and you may be at higher risk if you meet more than one of the criteria.

How to reduce your risk of catching COVID-19

There are lots of ways you can stay safe, including:

  • keeping your distance from anyone outside your household
  • washing your hands often, using soap and warm water, or hand sanitiser
  • avoiding crowded places and not meeting up with groups of people – either indoors or outdoors
  • wearing a face covering, if you can
  • working from home, if you can.

Stop smoking

Coronavirus is a respiratory infection. If you smoke, you have an increased risk of contracting a respiratory infection and of having worse symptoms. This means that if you catch coronavirus, your symptoms may be worse than those of a non-smoker.

Smokers also touch their mouth and face more, which increases the risk of transmitting the virus from hand to mouth.

It’s important that if you smoke, you stop as soon as possible. As well as lowering your risk from coronavirus, your breathing becomes easier within days of stopping smoking. 

Get advice on how to stop smoking.

Wear a face mask or face covering 

Most people with asthma, even if it’s severe, can manage to wear a face mask or covering for a short period of time, and shouldn't worry if they need to wear one. Wearing a mask does not reduce a person’s oxygen supply or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide.

There isn’t a blanket rule about face covering exemptions for everyone with asthma. But if you find it impossible to wear a face covering for health reasons, you don’t have to wear one. An example of this might be if a mask makes you too breathless.

We have more information and advice on wearing a face covering if you have asthma, including an exemption card if you can't wear one.

Following this advice is especially important if you are in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group.

Find the guidance for your area

Restrictions and advice on meeting people are different across the 4 UK nations:

England: Find out what the national lockdown means for you

Restrictions in Northern Ireland

Scotland: Find out what the national lockdown means for you

Alert levels for Wales

What can I do if I have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?

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. We know people have a lot of questions about the vaccine, which is why we’ve worked with our sister charity, the British Lung Foundation, to create a COVID-19 vaccine FAQ.

Questions we answer include:

  • When can I get the vaccine?
  • What is in the coronavirus vaccine?
  • Can I have the vaccine if I’ve had COVID-19?

Read the COVID-19 vaccine FAQ.

What priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine am I in if I have asthma?

When you will be offered your COVID-19 vaccine is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The purpose of this first phase of vaccination is to prevent as many deaths as possible.

We know there has been confusion about when people with asthma will get the COVID-19 vaccine and what priority group they will fall into. We have been urging the government for some months to provide this clarity, as we know it’s a worrying time for people with asthma, and we now have an update:

  • If you were sent a shielding letter, you will be in priority group 4.  
  • If you have ever had an emergency hospital admission for your asthma, or ever been prescribed three courses of steroid tablets in a three-month period, you will fall into priority group 6.  
  • If you do not fall into either of these groups and are under the age of 50, you will be vaccinated after the first nine priority groups. 

In Scotland, you will be in priority group 6 if you have a recorded hospital admission because of asthma, or if you have had 3 prescriptions of oral prednisolone in the last 6 months – or 168 tablets in the last 6 months if you use the Chronic Medication Service.

We have a blog explaining the priority groups and what this means for people with asthma.

We understand this is a worrying time for a lot of people, but we want to reassure you that the government intends to offer the vaccine to all adults, so even if you aren’t in a priority group you will get the vaccine later this year.

In the meantime, we urge you to do all you can to lower your risk of catching and spreading COVID-19. This includes:

  • following the guidance for your area of the country
  • washing your hands regularly, not touching your face and maintaining social distancing (hands, face, space)
  • working from home, if you can
  • not socialising indoors with people you don’t live with or are in your support bubble
  • looking after your asthma – this includes taking your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed and following your action plan.

How long will it take to vaccinate all the priority groups?

There isn’t a set timescale for when all the priority groups will be vaccinated.

When you get your invite and your vaccine is dependent on various factors, such as capacity in the NHS and the amount of people in your local area who fall into a priority group. In England, if you are over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable and have not had your vaccine, you should contact the NHS to arrange your jab.

The advice for everyone else is to wait until you’re invited. We will keep this page updated as and when we learn more.

Our sister charity, the British Lung Foundation, has a COVID-19 vaccine FAQ which is also worth keeping an eye on, as will help to answer some of the questions you might have.  

Biologic medicines for asthma and COVID-19 vaccines

Many people with severe asthma take medicines called biologics (known as mAbs, or monoclonal antibodies) alongside their usual asthma medicines. You can find out more about these medicines on our biologic therapies for severe asthma page.

If you take biologics yourself, you might be wondering how it affects getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

There is no evidence to suggest that either the Pfizer/BionNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe for people who take biologics. If you’re taking biologics for your asthma, you shouldn’t change how you take them unless you’re advised to do so by your GP or specialist.

You’re advised not to receive your COVID-19 vaccine and biologic on the same day and, if possible, leave 7 days between getting the COVID-19 vaccine and your asthma biologic. However, these decisions should be made by your specialist, so it’s important not to stop taking or change any of your medicines without speaking to them first. 

Should I be going to work?

The guidance for working in each of the 4 UK nations can be found here:

Going to work in England

Working in Northern Ireland

Guidance on working in Scotland

Working in Wales

The advice in England, Scotland and Wales is to work from home. In Northern Ireland, if you can’t work from home, you should only be going back into your workplace if your employer has made it safe to work. HSE has a guide on what a COVID-secure workplace should look like.

If you have concerns that your workplace isn’t safe, you should discuss this with your employer. If you can’t find a resolution, try contacting your trade union or getting advice from Acas.

Find out what to do about work if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable.

How can I look after my asthma during the pandemic?

You should still be getting your usual asthma care at this time, but some elements might look a bit different.

Emergency care

If you are having an asthma attack, this is an emergency. You must follow the steps on your action plan and get your usual emergency care, including going to A&E or calling 999 if you need to.

Care from your GP

If you have asthma, your risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus may be higher, particularly if you have severe asthma or your asthma is not well controlled. 

This means it’s really important to take all your preventer medications as prescribed to keep your asthma controlled. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if you are getting asthma symptoms 3 or more times a week.

Follow these 4 asthma management steps to help you keep well:

1. Keep taking your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed.

This helps cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.

2. Carry your reliever inhaler with your everywhere.

It is important to carry this with you everywhere, in case your asthma symptoms start flaring up.

3. Follow your asthma action plan.

This helps you recognise and manage your asthma symptoms when they start. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, or your plan is out of date, it’s important you get one. How to get an asthma action plan

4. Start a peak flow diary, if you have a peak flow meter.

If you don’t have a peak flow meter, think about getting one from your GP or pharmacist. It’s  a good way of tracking your asthma and helping to tell the difference between asthma symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms.

What support can I get if I need it?

Wherever you are in the UK, there is support available if you need to self-isolate. There’s more information on localised support on our shielding page.

Look after your mental health

It’s important to look after your mental health right now, whether you’ve had coronavirus or not. Here are a few organisations that can help you do that:

Every Mind Matters

Clear Your Head (Scotland)

Rethink

Mind

Mental Health Foundation

Samaritans

If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak is difficult for everyone – your life may have been affected a little, or it may have been affected a lot. Over the last few months, you may have felt worried, lonely, stressed, anxious or bored.

Here are some suggestions that might help your health and wellbeing:

Try to keep active

Do whatever physical activity you can manage. This might be a walk or run around your local area, or some yoga or an exercise video at home. Even if you aren’t able to do much exercise, try to break up the time you spend sitting down by walking around at home.

Watch what you eat and drink

Eat healthy meals, drink enough water, and try not to increase how much alcohol you drink.

Stay social

It’s really important to keep in touch with friends and family. You can send texts or emails, call people on the phone or use video chat to stay in touch with people who are important to you.

NHS support

Even if you're not in the shielding group, if you meet certain criteria you can access support from the NHS volunteer responders. They can do things like helping you with shopping, getting prescriptions or just checking in to see how you are doing. 

You can request this support online or by calling 0808 196 3646 if:

  • you're 70 or older with an underlying health condition
  • you have moderate to severe asthma
  • you're pregnant
  • you're registered disabled
  • you have certain other medical conditions
  • you're newly socially vulnerable because of coronavirus.


You can find the full list of criteria on the NHS volunteer responders website

Last updated on: Monday 22 February

 

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