Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
With ‘Plan B’ restrictions coming to an end on Wednesday, the clinically vulnerable may be understandably nervous about emerging back into society.
Although the shielding programme officially ended on September 15 last year, many have continued to exercise caution, and government guidance still encourages mask wearing and social distancing at home, and among family and friends.
But the Telegraph understands that four fifths of people did not need to shield in the first place, while many of whom were in the most danger were left exposed to the virus.
Dr Tony Williams, an occupational physician from the consultancy Working Fit, developed the ‘Covid-Age’ tool which estimates vulnerability to the virus based on individual risk factors, and is now officially recommended by the Scottish government.
He estimates that 1.5 million people were wrongly asked to shield under the original English guidelines, while about 1.5 million who should have been shielding were never warned.
For example, the largest group on the shielding list were patients taking immunosuppressant medication, but their risk of death was just 20 per cent higher than for a healthy male – and far lower than many groups who were not asked to shield.
Similarly, severely obese people have a higher risk than those with severe asthma, yet asthmatics were shielded while the obese weren’t.
Diabetes has consistently been found to be a major risk factor for Covid, and was mentioned in nearly one quarter of deaths between October and December last year.
Yet diabetics were only added to the shielding list last February, a year after the pandemic began, and only if they had other risk factors, such as being old, obese or belonging to an at-risk ethnic group.
Dr Williams said: “We realised quite quickly that people on the shielding list were not dying, while others that weren’t on it were severely at risk.
“One of the key errors was thinking immune-suppressed people were at risk. This is a virus that triggers a deadly cytokine storm, and we’ve now learned that giving people drugs to suppress the immune system has saved thousands of lives. So it’s illogical for these people to be shielding.
“A million and a half people have been misled. Another million and a half who should have been shielding were never warned.
“Now is an important time to get this message across, with people coming back to work. People who are not at risk need that reassurance.”
Condition – Relative Relative increased risk of death age 55 (Bold were originally shielded)
Because age is the biggest risk factor for Covid, the Covid-Age tool works by crunching risk factors and then giving an equivalent age.
For example, an obese 58-year-old with high blood pressure would have a Covid age risk of a 92 year old and should have been shielding, yet would have fallen through the cracks under the original guidelines.
Conversely, a 30-year-old with rheumatoid arthritis would have a Covid age of 32, yet would have been asked to shield, and may still be concerned about returning to work.
In February 2021, the government introduced the QCovid tool in an attempt to learn from new data emerging about those at risk.
The change added 1.7 million people to the shielding list, but the tool was largely used to prioritise immunisation, and failed to remove people who were at little extra risk.
The Telegraph understands that when researchers ran the original shielding list through the QCovid algorithm, 80 per cent of people did not need to be on it.
Mr Williams added: “Between 1.5 and 1.8 million were unnecessarily shielding, around the same number who should have shielded but were never warned. Many of this latter group will have died. Politics has really messed this up.”
As the government strives to get people back to work and boost the struggling economy, it is more crucial than ever to identify those who are no longer considered vulnerable, as well as finding those who might be unknowingly placing themselves in increased danger.
To find out your Covid-Age visit – https://alama.org.uk/covid-19-medical-risk-assessment/