Tens of thousands of children and young people are to be removed from the so-called shielding list.
The Welsh Government announced that under 18s would be removed from the list and will no longer be considered clinically extremely vulnerable in relation to Covid-19, following advice from the four chief medical officers of the UK.
And an update on the NHS Digital website, which manages the list of patients in England, indicates that children in England could also be removed from the list.
“Following an evidence review which found the Covid-19 risk for children and young people to be very low, UK Chief Medical Officers have accepted the recommendation from the UK Clinical Review Panel to remove all remaining children and young people from the Shielded Patient List,” the website states.
Covid-19 vaccine update:
2,339,253 people in Wales have now had their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
2,166,569 people are now fully vaccinated.
— Welsh Government #KeepWalesSafe (@WelshGovernment) August 24, 2021
This means that around 55,000 children – 2,700 across Wales and 52,248 in England – will be removed from the list and will no longer be required to shield should the programme be reintroduced.
In Scotland around 1,700 children who are currently on the list will remain on the list, with the evidence being kept under review.
Welsh officials said that a study into the effects of Covid-19 on children and young people found that under-18s, including those originally considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable to the virus, were at very low risk of becoming seriously unwell or dying from the virus.
In England and Wales there have been 46 registered deaths of people aged 0-19 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The shielded patients list was created at the start of the pandemic and those on it were deemed to be “extremely clinically vulnerable” to the effects of Covid-19.
People with serious illness were asked to follow strict infection control measures to help themselves and their loved ones from catching Covid.
Patients’ groups considered to be at highest risk include: people with certain types of cancer, or currently undergoing some cancer therapies; those with severe lung disease; people who have long term kidney disease; adults with Down’s syndrome; and other patient groups who might be less capable of fighting off infections compared to healthy adults.
The Welsh Government said that the vaccination of some children aged 12 to 15 with specific health conditions will continue.
Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan said: “We have taken a cautious, data-driven approach throughout this pandemic and continue to do so.
“We have looked carefully at the data from the past 18 months and are reassured that children and young people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable should no longer be included on the shielding patient list due to the risk of serious illness or death from coronavirus being extremely low.
“Children and young people have been severely affected by the pandemic, with many missing school and meeting family and friends. The change to the shielding patient list will ensure that only people who really need to follow this advice stay on the list.
“We are still learning about the impacts of coronavirus infection, including long Covid, and I encourage everyone in Wales to continue to do all they can to minimise the risk of catching the virus and help keep Wales and their loved ones safe.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As a result of a review by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the summer of 2020, the majority of children and young people at highest risk in Scotland were removed from the list in October 2020. Only around 1,730 remain.
“Some of these are children who need to take additional precautions as a result of their clinical status. Keeping them on the list for the time being means we can easily communicate any significant updates on the pandemic, including advice on additional safeguards they might wish to take in the event of an outbreak in their local area.
“We all have a duty to protect those most at risk of serious consequences of Covid-19, which is why we are maintaining vital safeguards in Scotland to help protect everyone, including wearing face coverings and physical distancing.
“The best way to protect yourself and your family is through vaccination, and we continue to strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Health officials in Northern Ireland have been approached for comment.