Last week we heard that more people have been advised by the Government that they should be shielding. This will have come as surprising and worrying news for some, but how have these extra 1.7 million shielders been chosen?
The list of people asked to shield themselves from coronavirus, and offered additional support from the Government to do so, until last week included 2.3 million people with a very specific list of medical conditions. These are conditions doctors and scientists knew would make people more vulnerable to the worst outcomes from coronavirus if they caught it.
However, this didn’t cover everyone at higher risk. During the pandemic, evidence has accumulated that certain groups in society – older people, men, people of minority ethnicity, people with some medical conditions, people who are obese, people living in more deprived areas – have been at higher risk of being hospitalised and dying from coronavirus than others in the population.
A team of scientists at the University of Oxford were tasked to examine these characteristics in the data of 8 million people held by GPs, along with information about who has been hospitalised for, or died from, coronavirus. The scientists have used all this information in a statistical model called ‘QCovid’ to work out which characteristics are linked to increased risk from coronavirus, and how great that increased risk is.
Applying the estimates of risks from QCovid to the information on all of our medical records, it has been possible to predict which people across the country are at high risk from coronavirus, considering all these characteristics together.
So, the 1.7 million new shielders may not have a single condition that puts them at very high risk, but a combination of characteristics, each of which increase their risk a little and which, together, raise their risk to an extent that they are recommended to shield, and be prioritised for a coronavirus vaccine.