UPDATED 7 November 2023
The Government guidance has changed and measures have been put in place for living safely with COVID. There are actions we can all take to help reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 and passing it on to others. These actions will also help to reduce the spread of other respiratory infections, such as flu, which can spread easily and may cause serious illness in some people.
COVID-19, along with many other respiratory infections such as influenza (flu), can spread easily and cause serious illness in some people. You may be infected with a respiratory virus such as COVID-19 and not have any symptoms but still pass infection onto others.
The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is greatest when someone who is infected is physically close to, or sharing an enclosed and/or poorly ventilated space with, other people. When someone with a respiratory viral infection such as COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release small particles that contain the virus which causes the infection. These particles can be breathed in or can come into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. The particles can also land on surfaces and be passed from person to person via touch.
You will not always know whether someone you come into contact with is at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from respiratory infections, including COVID-19. They could be strangers (for example people you sit next to on public transport) or people you may have regular contact with (for example friends and work colleagues).
There are simple things you can do in your daily life that will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections and protect those at highest risk. Things you can choose to do are:
- Get vaccinated
- Let fresh air in if meeting others indoors.
- Practise good hygiene: Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and clean your surroundings frequently
- Wear a face covering or a face mask.
Vaccines continue to remain our best line of defence. If you have not been vaccinated, please come forward to be received your vaccine to help protect yourself and others. The vaccination programme has been extended for children aged 6 months to 4 years, children aged 5 to 11 years and children aged 12 to 17 years.
It is extremely important that if you are eligible, you get your COVID-19 vaccination now – whether this be your first or a booster dose.
It is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated.
What to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination
The government have issued a guide to let you know what to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination.
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of these are mild and short-term, and not everyone gets them. The common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine start within a day and may last for a few days.
- Having a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had your injection
- Feeling tired
- Headache, aches and chills
You may also have flu-like symptoms with episodes of shivering and shaking for a day or two. However, a high temperature could also indicate that you have COVID-19 or another infection. You can rest and take the normal dose of paracetamol (follow the advice in the packaging) to help make you feel better.
An uncommon side effect is swollen glands in the armpit or neck on the same side as the arm where you had the vaccine. This can last for around 10 days, but if it lasts longer see your doctor.
In addition, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will be widening the offer of the free flu vaccine to more eligible groups. These additional groups will only be eligible once the most vulnerable have been offered the jab, including pre-school and primary school children, those aged 65 years and over, and those in clinical risk groups.
The additional groups set to be offered the free flu vaccine in England will be:
- All adults aged 50 to 64 years
- Secondary school children in years 7, 8 and 9, who will be offered the vaccine in order of school year (starting with the youngest first)
Autumn vaccination programme 2023
The primary aim of the COVID-19 vaccination programme continues to be the prevention of severe disease (hospitalisation and mortality) arising from COVID-19. Older persons, residents in care homes for older adults, and those who are immunosuppressed continue to be at highest risk of severe COVID-19.
As a precautionary measure, the government advises that a booster vaccination in autumn 2023 should be offered to:
- Residents in a care home for older adults
- All adults aged 65 years and over
- Individuals aged 6 months and over and who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, as defined in tables 3 and 4 of the COVID-19 chapter of the Green book. This includes people with the following conditions (this list is constantly reviewed and updated in the Green book):
- Chronic respiratory disease
- Chromosomal disorders affecting the immune system, including Down’s syndrome
- Certain types of cancer (usually blood cancer) or have received treatment for certain types of cancer (usually chemo or radiotherapy) that suppresses the immune system
- Sickle cell disease
- Certain conditions affecting their blood or spleen
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD) stage 4 or 5
- Chronic heart disease
- Chronic neurological disease, such as stroke, TIA, cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease etc.
- Diabetes or other endocrine disorders, such as Addison’s disease
- Morbid obesity
- Severe mental illness
- Severe liver disease
- Had an organ transplant
- Certain autoimmune or inflammatory conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease) on long term, immunosuppressants
- HIV or AIDS who have a weakened immune system
- Inherited or acquired conditions affecting their immune system
- Rare neurological conditions: multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Huntington’s disease or myasthenia gravis
- Frontline health and social care workers
- People aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
- People aged 16 to 64 years who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults.
To protect people over the winter months, the autumn vaccination programme will start on 11 September and aims to be completed by early December 2023.
From Monday 11 September residents of older adult care homes and those most at risk including those who are immunosuppressed will receive their COVID-19 vaccination first.
Carers, pregnant women, and health and social care staff will all be among the groups to be offered a COVID-19 vaccination this winter, as well as adults aged 65 and over.
Eligible people should wait to receive an invite from their local provider.
From 18 September, the NHS will start to invite people in priority order of risk and those eligible will be able to book an appointment on the National Booking Service.
Those people being vaccinated for the first time will be given a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine. If you have not previously been vaccinated for COVID-19 you will only be offered the vaccine if you fall into one of the categories listed above. If you are immunosuppressed and have not previously been vaccinated for COVID-19 you might be offered more than one dose of vaccine.
The autumn booster dose should be offered around 3-6 months after the last vaccine dose, although there may be operational flexibility around the timing of the autumn dose if considered appropriate.
Scotland’s winter vaccination programme
Public Health Scotland has announced their winter 2023 vaccination programme for both flu and COVID-19. Check here to see if you are eligible for a flu or COVID-19 vaccination.
- Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against serious flu and COVID-19 infection.
- Both viruses can be serious, even if you’re healthy and your kidney condition is well managed. They can result in complications, hospitalisation and death.
- It’s important to get your vaccines to help protect you and lower your risk from these viruses.
- Protection from the vaccines usually starts two weeks after having them. You might still get flu or COVID-19, but your symptoms are likely to be milder.
- The flu and COVID-19 vaccines available in the UK have been shown to be safe and effective.
Check on the Public Health Scotland website to see if you are eligible for a flu or COVID-19 vaccination: Underlying health conditions winter vaccine resources – Publications – Public Health Scotland.
First bivalent COVID-19 vaccine
Two updated versions of the COVID-19 vaccine that target two coronavirus variants (known as a “bivalent” vaccine) have been approved for adult booster doses by the UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccines are made by Moderna and Pfizer and meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
Each dose of the booster vaccine targets the original SARS-CoV-2 virus strain from 2020 and the Omicron variant.
These are the first bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccines to be approved for use in the world.
Read more in the Government’s press release here
Vaccine information for kidney patients
For kidney patients, getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to protect against serious disease, being admitted to hospital or dying as a result of COVID-19 infection
It’s important kidney patients have all the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, because they may get less protection from the vaccine than the wider population
Getting all the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine helps increase the level of protection for kidney patients as they may not have generated a full immune response to the first two doses
It’s not too late for anyone to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. First, second, third and booster doses continue to be available. Community clinics will be safe and welcoming.
Any questions or concerns can be discussed with the patient’s kidney team.
If you are clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19
Most people who were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 are well protected after receiving their primary and booster vaccination doses. You are no longer at substantially greater risk than the general population. Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else on staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19, as well as any further advice you may have received from your doctor.
There is no longer separate guidance for people previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, although we recommend anyone with underlying health conditions takes care to avoid coughs, colds and other respiratory viruses.
Pregnant women are strongly advised to get vaccinated. See guidance for pregnancy and COVID-19 on the NHS website.
If you have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated. Evidence indicates that completion of your primary course of COVID-19 vaccine (either 2 or 3 doses) provides very effective protection against hospitalisation. It usually takes around 2 to 3 weeks for your body to develop its protective response.
To maintain this high level of protection you should also get a booster vaccine for COVID-19 when offered. The first booster is available to everyone who had their first and second dose of vaccine, but you must wait 3 months between vaccinations.
You should continue to follow the same guidance as the general public on staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Due to a weakened immune system, a small number of people remain at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19, despite vaccination. See COVID-19: Guidance for people whose immune system means they are at higher risk.
COVID-19 will be a feature of our lives for the foreseeable future, so we need to learn to live with it and manage the risk to ourselves and others.
All of us can play our part by understanding the situations where risks of COVID-19 infection and transmission are likely to be higher, and taking action to reduce these risks.
Following this guidance will help you to understand situations where there is a greater risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 and the steps that you can take to stay safe and protect others. Every action you take to help reduce the spread will help reduce pressure on the NHS during the winter months.
However, we must keep the virus under control and follow the Government guidance.
Everybody needs to continue to act carefully and remain cautious. This is why the Government are keeping in place key protections:
- Get vaccinated when you are offered it, and encourage others to do so as well
- Testing when you have symptoms and targeted asymptomatic testing in education, high risk workplaces and to help people manage their personal risk
- Try to stay at home if you feel unwell
- Wash hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes
- Use the NHS COVID-19 app
- Do not travel if you have COVID symptoms
- Cautious guidance for individuals, businesses and the vulnerable whilst prevalence is high including:
- Being outside or letting fresh air in
- Minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts
Getting tested for COVID-19
From 1 April 2022, there will be changes to the availability of COVID-19 lateral flow tests for people with symptoms of COVID-19 and for those without symptoms. Please see the government’s statement about this here.
People with symptoms of COVID-19
It is important to continue testing people with symptoms of COVID-19 in high-risk settings where infection can spread rapidly among people who may be at higher risk of serious illness. It is important to ensure that COVID-19 is detected as quickly as possible in these situations to help minimise outbreaks to protect people who are most vulnerable.
Free tests for people who have COVID-19 symptoms will continue to be provided to the following groups, mostly through the existing means of ordering tests:
NHS patients in hospital, who will be tested via the established NHS testing programme
- People at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and those eligible for COVID-19 antiviral and other treatments. People in this group will be contacted directly by the NHS and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms as well as being told how to reorder tests
- NHS staff and staff working in NHS-funded independent healthcare provision
- Adult social care staff in care homes, home care organisations, extra care and supported living settings and adult day care centres. Residents in care homes and extra care and supported living settings
- Adult social care workers, personal assistants, Shared Lives carers and CQC inspectors
- Staff and patients in hospices
- Staff and detainees in prisons and other places of detention
- Staff and detainees in immigration removal centres
- Staff and users of high-risk domestic abuse refuges and homelessness settings.
People without symptoms of COVID-19
During periods of high infection rates, testing people without symptoms can help to reduce risk. Testing will continue to be provided for:
- Adult social care staff and a small number of visitors providing personal care
- Hospice staff
- Patient-facing staff in the NHS and NHS-funded independent healthcare provision
- Some staff in prisons and other places of detention, and some refuges and shelters
- Care home outbreak testing for all staff and residents will also continue all year.
Full guidance will be published shortly setting out how testing will change to reflect the Living with COVID-19 strategy, which will include specific guidance for high-risk settings.
Visitors to high-risk settings
Most visitors to adult social care settings, the NHS, hospices, prisons or places of detention will no longer require a test.
Tests will continue to be provided to a small number of visitors to care homes and hospices who will be providing personal care.
Visits by people with symptoms may still be allowed in exceptional circumstances, such as end of life visits. Please contact someone responsible at the setting prior to visiting in these circumstances.
If you wish to test yourself, lateral flow tests will continue to be available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, including online.
It is vital that everyone continues to follow the simple steps to keep themselves and others safe.
Changes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set out their own plans, as follows:
The Government will continue to work together with our partners to keep all of these measures under review.
If you do not fall into the categories listed here but you wish to test yourself for COVID-19, lateral flow tests will continue to be available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, including online.
If you are concerned by these changes and you are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, please talk to you GP of healthcare team to see if you qualify for free COVID-19 tests. Alternatively, please email us if you have some questions.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
There may be different rules if you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The advice regarding vaccination, remaining cautious and getting tested applies to all UK countries
To stay safe you should:
- COVID-19 testing is no longer recommended or available for most people in the general population. Testing is recommended for some specific groups, including those who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments. If you test positive for COVID-19 you should follow the guidance available at: Coronavirus (COVID-19): testing and stay at home advice
- Get vaccinated to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections such as flu. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. If you have not yet received all the COVID-19 vaccine doses recommended for you: Get a COVID-19 vaccination and booster in Northern Ireland
- Meet outdoors or keep indoor spaces well ventilated
- Wear a face covering
- Keep your distance from anyone outside your household
- Limit close contact with other people
- Wash your hand regularly and cover coughs and sneezes. Where possible, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Rooms used for activities and shared spaces, should be cleaned regularly, including door handles, tables, seats, handrails and toilets
The Government has released the Government’s plan for recovery to return life to as near normal as possible in order to safeguard livelihoods, but in a way that is safe and continues to protect our NHS. Currently this plan only applies to people living in England.