The Government has identified almost two million more people at greater risk from Covid who will be ordered to shield
The NHS will send letters to patients in the coming weeks and allow them to move up their vaccine priority group.
NHS Digital and Oxford University researchers have analysed data on those hospitalised or who died during the pandemic so far to calculate those in the population at risk.
The new risk assessment computer model will add a further 1.7 million people in England to around two million already on the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ list.
The model – called QCovid – is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.
Advice is currently to shield until at least the end of February. The change affects just England at this stage.
This new group are deemed vulnerable due to a combination of less serious conditions and risk factors which taken together make them vulnerable.
Of the 1.7 million patients identified almost 900,000 are over 70 so will already have been invited for a vaccination.
The other 820,000 adults aged between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritised for a vaccination.
This group will also be prioritised for free shopping deliveries and guaranteed statutory sick pay.
GPs will also be able to give them tailored advice based in their risk
The computer risk assessment has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency after its model was peer reviewed by the British Medical Journal.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said: “For the first time, we are able to go even further in protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.
“This new model is a tribute to our health and technology researchers.
“The model’s data-driven approach to medical risk assessment will help the NHS identify further individuals who may be at high risk from COVID-19 due to a combination of personal and health factors.
“This action ensures those most vulnerable to COVID-19 can benefit from both the protection that vaccines provide, and from enhanced advice, including shielding and support, if they choose it.”
The model factors in where someone lives using their postcode as well as their ethnicity.
Risk factors considered also include health records, age, sex and body mass index (BMI).
Shielding advice is not to go out to work and get others to do your shopping.
Shielders can still go outside for exercise or to attend health appointments but are advised to minimise contact with others and avoid busy areas.
They should not meet anyone outside their support bubble and try to stay two metres away from people even within their household.
They can still meet one other person at a safe distance outdoors for exercise.
The research to create the model was commissioned by England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and funded by the National Institute of Health Research.
Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital said: “I’m very pleased that NHS Digital has been able to deliver the platform to allow the QCovid model to be used to identify individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 as a result of combinations of clinical risk factors and personal characteristics.
“This extends the work we did last year to develop the Shielded Patients List, which included individuals with one of a number of specific clinical conditions.
“It is a privilege to be able to support the Chief Medical Officer and his team in their quest to deliver the most sophisticated COVID-19 risk prediction capability.”
Until now the only people advised to shield in England were those deemed “clinically extremely vulnerable” by the NHS.
They include people receiving organ transplants or with cancers, COPD, Down’s syndrome, major kidney or heart disease or other conditions.
The ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ should all have been offered first doses of the vaccine already as they were in the first four priority groups.
Meanwhile however there are another 6.1million ‘at risk’ people in England – 7.3million in the UK – who are under the age of 75.
They have not been told to shield during any of the lockdowns but have been told to take more care. They are being sent vaccination letters for this week.
The at risk group appears to be similar to the ‘clinically vulnerable’ group, which includes people with severe asthma, obesity, diabetes and liver disease, as well as all over-70s and pregnant women.
Today’s announcement indicates that some, though by no means all, of these people will be asked to shield in the coming weeks.