The shielding programme put in place to protect those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid has formally closed, the Government has announced.
The programme, launched at the start of the pandemic, has been paused since April.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this week that those ‘previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable will not be advised to shield again’.
It added that the Government has agreed to ‘end the requirement for centralised guidance for these groups following expert clinical advice’ but that ‘research and evaluation’ for some clinical groups will continue.
The Government will send a letter to those previously on the shielding list ‘in the coming days’ to inform them of the decision, it said.
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Jenny Harries said: ‘Since the start of the pandemic, the NHS has administered millions of life-saving Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, which is why those who were originally considered clinically extremely vulnerable have, since step 4 (19 July), been advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else.
‘Because of this progress, the Government does not expect to have to issue shielding advice to this large group again, but will continue to assess the risks to the most vulnerable from Covid-19.’
The DHSC statement added that shielding was ‘the right decision at the time’ to protect the most vulnerable in the initial waves of the pandemic, the advice was ‘extremely restrictive and for some, had a significant impact on people’s lives and their mental and physical wellbeing’.
‘The Government will continue to assess the situation and the risks posed by Covid-19 and, based on clinical advice, will respond accordingly to keep the most vulnerable safe’, it said.
It added that individuals should ‘consider advice from their health professional on whether additional precautions are right for them’.
It comes as all children on the shielding list were last month removed after the UK’s chief medical officers (CMOs) accepted a recommendation from the UK clinical review panel to remove all those remaining on the list.
An NHS England GP bulletin said that an ‘evidence review’ found the risk of hospital admission and death for children and young people from Covid to be ‘very low’.
The Government this week accepted final JCVI advice that all patients in groups 1-9 of the first phase of the Covid vaccination campaign should have a booster jab six months after their second dose, prioritised in the same order as in phase one.
Third jabs for immunosuppressed patients were already recommended, with GPs helping to identify eligible patients to receive the jab from this week.