The government has announced that a further 820,000 people in England who are at high risk from COVID-19 will be offered a vaccine and advised to shield.
This is a result of a new technology called QCovid, which analyses a combination of risk factors based on medical records to assess whether somebody may be more vulnerable than was previously understood. More information can be read here.
The technology will help clinicians provide vaccination more quickly to these individuals and will ensure people can benefit from additional advice and support if needed.
The government estimates that it has identified an additional 1.7million individuals who should be classed as either clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable.
It is thought that around half of these people will have already been vaccinated because they are aged over 70, and the remaining 820,000 will now be prioritised urgently by their GPs to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Last week, ‘muscle-wasting conditions’ were officially referenced to in guidance from Public Health England about who should be prioritised for vaccination. Additionally, the government’s ‘green book’ of COVID-19 vaccine information for public health officials now makes specific reference to ‘degenerative disease of the nervous system or muscles’.
What happens next?
These patients – of which some will live with a muscle-wasting condition – will be sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days.
The letter will explain that their risk factors may help identify them as high clinical risk, and that they are included within the support and advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
They will be invited to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible if they haven’t already had the jab, and will be given advice on precautionary measures including shielding where this is current advice. Their GPs will also be notified.
What about shielding?
The government is extending the current shielding guidance for those already identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and new patients identified through the model until 31 March.
Those already on the shielded patient list will receive an update letter this week to inform them of the extension.
Patients should speak to their GP or specialist clinician if they have questions about why they have been added to the shielded patient list.
What does Muscular Dystrophy UK think?
Rob Burley, Director of Campaigns, Care and Support at MDUK, said: “Since the start of the pandemic there has been uncertainty about precisely which people living with a muscle-wasting conditions are most at risk from COVID-19. In some cases we have heard of individuals receiving multiple notifications that they are clinically extremely vulnerable and are advised to shield.
“Others living with the same condition have had to work with their GP or neuromuscular specialist to ensure that their risk is understood and that they can access support. We have worked with leading neuromuscular clinicians to provide accurate advice to our community and hopefully today’s news will mean more people living with a muscle-wasting condition who require support to shield will be able to access that help”.
Why are you only being told now that you’re at increased risk from COVID-19?
At the beginning of the pandemic there was very limited data about risk factors, so the clinically extremely vulnerable list was based predominantly on the government’s understanding of vulnerability to other respiratory viruses.
As further evidence has emerged about the virus, the government has gained a better understanding of the importance of a combination of individual characteristics and underlying health conditions that determine someone’s risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Identifying these people as potentially high risk has only been possible now because of the QCovid risk model and NHS Digital’s technology.
MDUK understands that this news may cause concern for people and families living with a muscle-wasting condition. Those affected can get in touch with our support team by ringing 0800 652 6352 between 10am-2pm on Monday to Friday. Even if you ring outside of these times, someone will always get back to you. Alternatively, you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org