There has been a lot of confusion about who is considered particularly 'vulnerable' to coronavirus. This article summarises the advice. In short, there are two groups, and only the most vulnerable or 'extremely vulnerable' have been advised at any point to remain fully at home. This does not include, for instance, all people over the age of 70.

Links to current official guidance 

Background: 'clinically extremely vulnerable' patients

Some patients have been identified as particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. For these 'clinically extremely vulnerable' patients, there is a significantly greater risk of very serious consequences, if they catch coronavirus.

People in this group have been advised to 'shield' themselves, which typically involves remaining fully at home. This guidance has been withdrawn, reintroduced and modified at different times, as the infection rate has changed. You'll find links to the current guidance above. 

The exact definition of this group varies very slightly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The summary below is broadly applicable throughout the UK.

The 'clinically extremely vulnerable' group includes patients with the following conditions or undergoing the following treatments:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

If you are in this group, any advice to shield yourself is advice, not a legal requirement.

'Vulnerable' patients

Some people are considered 'vulnerable' but not in the 'highest risk' or 'clinically extremely vulnerable' group outlined above. If this includes you, you have not been asked to 'shield' yourself at any time, but you are advised to follow social distancing rules carefully.

This group includes people with the following characteristics or illnesses:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. for adults this usually anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
    • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive
    • pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
    • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
    • chronic kidney disease
    • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
    • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
    • diabetes
    • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
    • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or  chemotherapy
    • being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
    • those who are pregnant.

Updated: 5th January 2021.

Reviewed: 13th July 2021.