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Extra 1.7 million people advised to shield

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The government is advising an extra 1.7 million people to shield after a new model has identified them as being at high risk from coronavirus, and therefore classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

This new model takes into account extra factors rather than just health, including ethnicity, deprivation (by postcode) and weight to work out a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to catch COVID-19. It also considers age, underlying health issues and prescribed medications.

An estimated 1.7 million people will be contacted by the NHS over the next few weeks and added to the 2.3 million people already on the shielded patient list, who have been asked to shield until 31 March.

Patients will be informed by a letter sent by the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care over the next few days. A letter has also been sent to GPs which sets out the implication that this has for these patients, including how they should be prioritised urgently for vaccination if they haven’t already had one.

Until now, only those with specific conditions or undergoing certain types of treatment have been advised to shield. They include adults with Down’s Syndrome, organ donor recipients and people with severe respiratory conditions.

The new model was developed following work by Oxford University which looked at the characteristics of people who died in the first wave to better understand risk. Medical records have been searched to identify high-risk patients, based on their combined risk factors.

Of the 1.7 million people being added to the shielding list, over 800,000 adults will now be prioritised to receive a vaccine as part of the current vaccination cohorts. The other 900,000 have already received an offer of a vaccination because they were over 70.

The government’s shielding guidelines strongly advise clinically extremely vulnerable people to stay at home at all times, apart from going out to exercise or to attend a medical appointment.

They should also try to stay 2m (6ft) away from other people within their household, especially if they display symptoms of the virus or have been advised to self-isolate. People on the list are still advised to shield even if they have had two doses of the vaccine.