An estimated 1.7 million people are to be added to the shielding list in England, after additional adults have been identified by experts to be at serious risk of complications from contracting Covid-19, health officials have said.
A new algorithm identified the new shielding list, and people added will receive a letter from the NHS in the coming days. They will now get priority access for Covid-19 vaccines if they have not yet received their jab, officials confirmed.
Because some will have already been offered a coronavirus jab, this means some 800,000 individuals will be bumped up the vaccine priority list.
‘More likely to be an overestimate of risk’
The tool to identify people at most risk was developed by researchers led by scientists at Oxford University. The predictive risk model looked at multiple factors including age, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), and also postcode, which is indicative of levels of deprivation.
The Department for Health has said the new model is overly cautious and may alert some people to a risk it does not believe is worth shielding for.
Around 2.2 million people are currently on the shielding list in England, many of whom were identified for a single reason, such as specific cancers, people on immunosuppression drugs or those with severe respiratory conditions.
The additional 1.7 million will bring the number of people of the shielding list in England to almost four million. These people have been advised to shield until 31 March 2021.
Those joining the shielding list will have the same support available as those who are “clinically extremely vulnerable”. This includes medicine deliveries, priority slots for supermarkets and statutory sick pay.
Dr Jenny Harries, one of England's Deputy Chief Medical Officers, told reporters: “As we learn more about Covid-19, we're continuously reviewing the evidence... it was very clear that not all of those individuals who were at risk were identified by the binary approach.
"The letter will note that this is more likely to be an overestimate of risk in a way which hopefully handles any of their anxiety.
"And it makes it absolutely clear that it is a choice for them if they choose to follow shielding advice or not - that has always been the case.
"What it does also do - which I hope will benefit them, which is why people will hopefully be grateful to receive this - is it will prioritise them for vaccination.
"In addition to that it means they have advice and support and that is important not just now, but should there be any changes in the pandemic in forthcoming months - for example, perhaps in vaccinations perhaps in the autumn as we go forward, then clearly they will be identified within that group as well so there are current and longer term benefits."