The vast majority of children will no longer need to shield from the end of this month, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said.
Dr Jenny Harries backed guidance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) which says that most youngsters with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and kidney disease do not need to continue to shield and could, for example, go back to school.
The Government has now said the majority of children in England who are currently considered extremely clinical vulnerable to Covid-19 will be able to be removed from the shielded patient list over the summer.
It said youngsters will only be removed from the list by their GP or specialist doctor following consultation with the child and their family.
Specialists and GPs will contact children and their families to discuss the move in the coming weeks.
Dr Jenny Harries backed guidance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) which says that most youngsters with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and kidney disease do not need to continue to shield and could, for example, go back to school
The RCPCH guidance, published last month, said many children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and scoliosis should no longer be shielded, adding that the benefits of school ‘in terms of access to therapies and developmental support’ outweigh the risk of infection.
It said: ‘Children and young people who are cared for just in primary care are very unlikely to need to continue to shield.’
The RCPCH has created two lists, with those on List A being advised to continue to shield.
These include youngsters with certain immunodeficiency and immunosuppression, such as those who have had transplants, children having cancer treatment for acute leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and those with significant impairment in their ability to cough and to clear their airways.
Patients on List B, however, can discuss with their doctors whether it is safe for them to stop shielding.
This includes children with some cardiac conditions, those with sickle cell disease, youngsters who were born premature with oxygen requirements, and those with kidney disease, cystic fibrosis or more serious asthma.
The guidance says: ‘Many children with asthma, including those treated with biological agents and daily (drug) prednisolone, will not need continued shielding.’
It adds: ‘There is no evidence that children with diabetes are more likely to be infected with Covid-19 compared to children without diabetes.’
Data from NHS Digital shows that some 92,633 children under the age of 18 were on the shielded list.
Dr Harries said: ‘I do not under-estimate the difficulty of children having to stay indoors and to only have limited contact with family and friends for such a long time.
‘As our understanding of this novel virus has developed, evidence shows most children and young people are at low risk of serious illness and will no longer be advised to shield after July.
‘Families who are uncertain about whether shielding is right for their child in the future will want to discuss this with their doctor, who will be best placed to determine the most appropriate care.
‘These discussions will take place over the summer.’
Dr Mike Linney, registrar at the RCPCH, said: ‘Lockdown has been tough on children generally, but especially for those who have been shielding.
‘It’s been a long haul for thousands of families, and we hope this announcement brings some relief.
‘Fortunately children are less affected by Covid-19. This appears to be the case not just in the UK but worldwide.
‘However, they have suffered from the social effects of lockdown, isolation, and school closures.
‘We know that many families who have been shielding will have concerns.
‘The important point of this guidance is that paediatricians and specialist doctors now have better information to discuss shielding with patients and their families.
‘Children under the sole care of a GP are very unlikely to need to continue shielding, but if you are worried, seek reassurance.
‘Should we face a second wave, this guidance will allow us to make better decisions about who needs to shield.
‘It was right to be cautious when we knew so little about the virus, but we now have a lot of evidence to guide us.
‘We can be confident that the vast majority of children and young people don’t need to shield.’
Children and young people should continue to shield until the end of July but then clinically vulnerable people of all ages will no longer be advised to shield.