Coronavirus and COVID-19

Who is clinically extremely vulnerable (the shielding group)?

People are regarded as clinically extremely vulnerable if they are at very high risk of severe illness as a result of coronavirus and may need be admitted to hospital. People with a range of long-term lung conditions are in this group if their condition is severe. 

People with severe long-term lung conditions in this group include people with:

People with severe COPD

Current NHS medical records do not hold perfect data to specifically identify how severe your COPD is. To work around this, letters have been sent to people with COPD based on the medications that they are taking. This is because there are good records of prescriptions that people have received. These include:

  • People on what is sometimes called triple therapy. This means taking a long acting beta agonist (LABA) and a long acting muscarinic agonist (LAMA) and an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) in either November or December 2019. These could be prescribed as either 3 separate medicines or combinations of single and dual or combination medicines or as triple therapy.
  • People who’ve had a prescription for Roflumilast most recently in November 2019 or December 2019. 

But some people who take this sort of medicine may only have mild COPD. And not everyone who has severe COPD is on triple therapy. If you have received a letter and have been prescribed either triple therapy or Roflumilast and think your COPD is not severe, talk to your GP or hospital specialist.

GPs and hospital clinics have identified people with severe COPD who have been missed by the medication approach to add them to the list. This review was informed by NICE’s definition of severe COPD, which includes:

  • Everyone who has severe or very severe airflow obstruction. This is measured using a breathing test called spirometry where you blow out as hard as you can. If the lung damage means that the amount of air you can blow out in 1 second is less than 50% of what it should be, it is classed as severe. Severe or very severe airflow obstruction is sometimes described as GOLD grade 3 or GOLD grade 4.
  • People who have been admitted to hospital in the past because of an acute attack of their lung condition.
  • People who are very limited by breathlessness – this means that even walking normally at your own pace you have to stop after 100 yards or a few minutes on level ground. Health care professionals sometimes use a measure called the MRC score. This scores breathlessness on a scale of 1 to 5. If you have a score of 4 or 5 you should be shielding. 
  • People who have multiple medical problems – many people with COPD have other medical problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Each of these may increase an individual’s risk.
  • People who need to use oxygen therapy at home 
  • People who need to use non-invasive ventilation at home – a mask ventilator, sometimes called BiPAP, to support their breathing at night

Read more about what you should do if you live with COPD.

Lung cancer and mesothelioma

This applies to people who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy for their lung cancer or mesothelioma or if they meet any of the criteria that are on the list under COPD.

Severe bronchiectasis

This includes people with bronchiectasis who: 

Tuberculosis

There is currently no evidence that if you have active or latent TB, you're more at risk from COVID-19.

But if your lungs are extensively damaged or inflamed as a result of active TB or past TB, you may be more at risk of developing a chest infection after a coronavirus infection. For example, some people develop severe bronchiectasis after extensive active TB and in that case, you are advised to practise social shielding, following the current guidance on severe bronchiectasis.

It is important not to stop your TB medication if you feel worse, but to seek advice from your local TB team.

Interstitial lung disease, including pulmonary fibrosis 

Everyone with pulmonary fibrosis and other types of interstitial disease is regarded as vulnerable, and should have received a letter from their specialist or GP. Read our detailed information about what you should do if you live with an ILD.

Sarcoidosis 

Everyone with sarcoidosis affecting their lungs is regarded as vulnerable, and should have received a letter from their specialist or GP. Read our detailed information about your care

Pulmonary hypertension

People with a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension are regarded as vulnerable. Please visit PHA UK for more information.

Immunosuppressive drugs 

People on immunosuppressive drugs for any reason should practise social shielding. These include:

  • Prednisolone
  • Methotrexate
  • Azathioprine
  • Mycophenolate Mofetil and Mycophenolate Sodium
  • Cyclosporin
  • Sirolimus
  • Tacrolimus
  • Having in the last 6 months received intravenous Cyclophosphamide, Rituximab or Infliximab

Other lung conditions

The groups listed above cover most lung conditions. If your condition is not included or you are not sure, have a look at these criteria:

If you meet any of these then it is likely your condition makes you especially vulnerable to coronavirus. If you have not received a letter, seek advice from your health care team.

Last updated: Tuesday 5 January 2021

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Last medically reviewed: January 2021. Due for review: January 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.