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Coronavirus and diabetes updates

Coronavirus (COVID-19) molecules

If you have diabetes, you are no more likely to catch coronavirus (COVID-19) than anyone else. However people with diabetes are more vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus, but the way it affects you can vary from person to person.

On this page:

All the coronavirus information below applies to the whole of the UK, unless specified. We've noted where are some differences in guidance and diabetes services across the UK.

How coronavirus can affect people with diabetes

The majority of people who do get coronavirus – whether they have diabetes or not – will have mild symptoms and don’t need to go into hospital. However, everyone with diabetes, including those with type 1, type 2, gestational and other types, is more vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus.

In adults with diabetes, there are certain factors that increase risk of serious illness like being older, having a high HbA1c, or having a history of diabetes-related complications. There are other factors too, like your BMI and ethnicity, that research shows can have an impact on your risk. In children with diabetes, the risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus is very low.

There are some risk factors that you can't change, but others where you can reduce your risk.

Being ill can make your blood sugar go all over the place. Your body tries to fight the illness by releasing stored glucose (sugar) into your blood stream to give you energy. But your body can’t produce enough or any insulin to cope with this, so your blood sugars rise.

Your body is working overtime to fight the illness, making it harder to manage your diabetes. This means you’re more at risk of having serious blood sugar highs and lows, potentially leading to DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) or HHS (hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state).

How to reduce your risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus

Research shows that having the vaccine reduces the risk of getting seriously ill with coronavirus. There are some things that can help you keep safe:

  • get your coronavirus vaccines and booster when you are eligible
  • wash hands regularly, for 20 seconds 
  • keep indoor spaces well ventilated and opt for meeting outdoors, where possible
  • wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, if not exempt.

Lateral flow tests

Rapid lateral flow tests are available to encourage people to test themselves regularly. You can buy rapid lateral flow tests from a pharmacy. 

The government has produced a step-by-step guide for people with visual impairment, on how to use and return your test kits.

Managing your blood glucose (sugar) levels

Research has shown that having a high HbA1c can increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. So it’s important to work with your diabetes team to try to bring your blood sugar levels to a healthy range.

Getting the coronavirus vaccine

The most important way people living with diabetes can lower their risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus is to avoid catching the virus in the first place. A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection and that’s why we strongly encourage you to get the vaccine when you’re offered it.

All adults aged 16 and over, including people with diabetes, have now been invited to have their vaccine.

If you are 16 or over and live in England, you can book an appointment online to receive your vaccine or call 119 free of charge, any time between 7am and 11pm seven days a week. You can also find a walk-in coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination site.

Children aged 12 to 15 are now being offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Parents and guardians will get a letter with information about when the vaccine will be offered. Most children will be given their vaccine at school.

  • All 12-15 year olds are being offered two doses, no less than three months apart.

The vaccination programme has been extended to children aged between 5 and 11 who are clinically most at risk of COVID-19 or live with someone who is immunosuppressed. Eligible children include those with diabetes, immunosuppression, learning disabilities, epilepsy and other conditions as outlined in the UK Health Security Agency's Green Book. You will be contacted by the NHS when it is your child's turn.

  • All eligible 5-11 year olds will be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine eight weeks apart – a third of the amount used for adult vaccinations.

Booster vaccines

The booster vaccination programme has been extended for all people aged 18 and over.

  • Those eligible will only be able to book an appointment for a booster dose if it's been at least 3 months since their second dose of the vaccine.

  • The booster will be offered to adults in groups of descending age order, with priority given to older adults and those over 16 in groups identified as being at higher risk, including people with diabetes.

  • People who are eligible for this will be contacted by the NHS when they are due for their booster appointment. Please wait to be contacted before booking a booster dose.  

  • Severely immunosuppressed people will be offered another booster which for some people will be their fourth dose. 

The NHS is currently working on plans to deliver these changes to the booster vaccine programme. If you are in England and aged 16 or over and living with diabetes or another condition that puts you at higher risk, or for all aged 40 and over and received your second vaccine three months ago or longer, booking can be done online: book your COVID-19 booster vaccine appointment

From 21st March 2022, an additional COVID-19 booster jab is being offered to

  • people aged 75 years and over,
  • residents in care homes, and
  • children aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed

from around six months after their last dose. They, or their parents or carers, will be contacted by the NHS when it is their turn.

Get more information about the coronavirus vaccines, including who can get it and how safe it is for people with diabetes.

The government has also released an easy-read guide about the booster vaccinations.

 

"There have been lots of myths about the vaccine in the South Asian community. But I’ve had the vaccine, my 98-year-old dad has had it and we’re both fine – and you will be too. And it means you can make sure you and your family are safe."

- Abdul helps clear up myths about diabetes as one of our volunteers, read his story

NHS Covid Pass

You may be asked to prove your vaccination status before you can enter large venues and events using an NHS COVID Pass.

To get an NHS Covid Pass, you will need to download and register your details on the NHS App if you are in England or Wales, the NHS Scotland Covid Status App or the Northern Ireland Covidcert NI app. Find out more about Getting an NHS COVID Pass.

 

Face masks and coverings

From 27 January, face coverings are no longer required by law in England in any setting although some businesses, transport providers and supermarkets are asking their staff and customers to continue to wear one. Public health guidance will remain in place, suggesting people should continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet. Staff and children in secondary schools are not required to wear masks in classrooms. 

Diabetes UK supports the continued wearing of face masks for clinically extremely vulnerable people. Wearing a mask helps keep you and others safe and is a simple way to reduce your risk as you go about your daily life.

We hope employers across the UK continue to be considerate of the wellbeing of their employees and consider the benefits of encouraging face masks within their premises.

A legal requirement to wear a face covering in certain settings remains in place in some settings in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • In Scotland, masks must be worn in shops, on public transport, at work as well as in pubs, cafes and restaurants when not seated.
  • In Wales, masks are legally required on public transport, in taxis and in all public indoor areas apart from pubs and restaurants.
  • In Northern Ireland, as of 15/02/2022 face coverings are no longer a legal requirement. It is still strongly recommended in health and social care settings, on public transport and in enclosed indoor settings, where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet however.

There are certain reasons why some people don’t need to wear a face covering – called exemptions. These include children (depending on their age), if you have asthma, and lots more. But these exemptions are different depending on where you live, so check your national government websites for the most up-to-date list – we've added some useful links below. If these exemptions apply to you, then you don’t need to wear one. But if nothing on the list applies to you, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t wear a face covering.

We know it’s not that simple. Wearing a mask can take some getting used to, and can feel very strange at first. Some of you have told us that wearing a mask makes you feel anxious or you find it hard to breathe. There are lots of different masks out there so try to find one that suits you best. You also could try wearing it around the house for a bit, to get used to breathing in it and moving about while it’s on.

If you spot someone not wearing a mask when they’re out and about, try not to make a judgement – there could be lots of invisible reasons for this and it’s not something that’s in your control. Some people may prefer to have something to hand that says they don't need to wear a face covering. You can print these from the UK Government website or make the message your phone screensaver.

If you get coronavirus

If you do get coronavirus, it’s really important that you follow your sick day rules. This will help you to keep your blood sugars in range as much as possible, so you can stay well and fight the virus. We know it’s not that always that simple. Take a look at our new courses in Learning Zone to help you remember your sick day rules and manage your blood sugar levels, and our guide on staying home and managing diabetes.

Some people are being treated for coronavirus with a steroid called dexamethasone, which can make your blood sugars go high. Find out more about the steroid dexamethasone and diabetes.

Remember, for urgent medical help, call 999.

"I’m just trying not to worry too much. I think it’s a case of taking precautions and following the government guidelines, as well as doing my very best to look after my health."

- Snita has diabetes and recovered from coronavirus symptoms – read her story

How coronavirus can affect children with diabetes

Children typically have mild symptoms if they catch the virus. We are not aware of any children with diabetes who have died from coronavirus. However, as with all people with diabetes, an illness like coronavirus can make it harder to manage your child’s diabetes and the risk of DKA will be higher when they are unwell. A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent getting ill from coronavirus and that's why we strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine - this includes children aged 5 years and above.

Get more information about children and school.

How coronavirus can affect pregnant women with diabetes

The same rules apply to you as for everyone with diabetes. If you’re pregnant and have diabetes, then you are not more at risk of getting the virus. However, if you do get the virus, you could be more at risk of developing complications and it could become harder to manage your diabetes. For that reason, it's really important you're extra careful and follow social distancing rules.

You can find all the latest information for pregnant women from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

How coronavirus can affect people in type 2 diabetes remission

Diabetes remission works differently for different people, and we still don't know enough about it. So we don't know for sure how the virus could affect you if you’re in remission. Everyone, including people in diabetes remission, should carefully follow social distancing rules. You can find more general information in our guide to type 2 diabetes remission.

How coronavirus can affect people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups

The risk of death from coronavirus for some ethnic groups is higher than for people of white ethnicity. But it is important to remember that there are lots of factors involved, like age, and overall risk of dying from coronavirus is very low.

In England and Wales, data from the Office of National Statistics shows how people from certain Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are more at risk than people of white ethnicity. Research in Scotland hasn’t shown this increased risk, but the BAME population there is very small. And we don’t have data on this in Northern Ireland at the moment.

Data from Office of National Statistics. Covid-19 deaths by ethnicity in England and Wales between 2 March and 10 April 2020.
Data from Office of National Statistics. Covid-19 deaths by ethnicity in England and Wales between 2 March and 10 April 2020.

We don’t know why this is happening. The data takes into account factors which we know can increase risk, such as age, socioeconomic status and health, including obesity. And we do know that some ethnic minority groups are more at risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart problems, which are linked to increased risk of death from coronavirus.

It’s clear that we need further research to understand what’s causing this – whether the causes are physical, cultural or social. We are pushing for clearer guidance from the government on risks to people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Can coronavirus cause diabetes?

There is growing evidence to suggest that coronavirus might be triggering diabetes in some people, or making the condition worse for others. We've taken a look at the research so far and explain what scientists are doing to find answers.

Small studies have suggested that rates of new type 1 diabetes diagnoses in children were higher in 2020 compared to average rates in previous years. The causes of type 1 diabetes are complex, and scientists think that there are a variety of environmental and genetic reasons that could explain why the condition develops. Viruses could be one of these reasons, but the evidence around this is mixed and we just don’t know for sure yet.

Advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people

The advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people to 'shield' came to an end in 2021. Shielding was a way of protecting 'clinically extremely vulnerable' people who are at a very high risk of severe illness and needing to go to hospital if they catch coronavirus. It meant staying at home almost all of the time, with no face-to-face contact.

Governments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have each set out their own guidance for people who were listed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Wherever you live, it’s still really important to keep following any coronavirus guidance in your area and to shield if you feel it’s right for you.

England

The shielding programme has ended in England. This means that people who were previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) will not be advised to shield in the future or follow specific national guidance.

Your diabetes team may provide individual advice to you about your risk, depending on your individual situation and any complications or other health conditions you may have. You could raise this at your next routine appointment.

You might also want to continue to take precautions to reduce your risk such as:

  • making sure those you are meeting have been vaccinated - you might want to wait until 14 days after everyone's second dose of COVID-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others;
  • considering continuing to practise social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends;
  • asking friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow antigen test before visiting you;
  • asking home visitors to wear face coverings;
  • avoiding crowded spaces.

You should also take up your offer of a coronavirus vaccine booster when you are offered it and your annual flu jab.

Our helpline team is here to support or provide more information. Call 0342 123 2399 to speak to one of our highly trained advisors about any questions or concerns.

Scotland

There are 5 COVID-19 Protection Levels (0-4) in Scotland. All of Scotland has moved out of the levels system. You can find more information on the government website.

The guidance to shield for clinically vulnerable people in Scotland ended on 26 April 2021.

Wales

There are 5 COVID-19 Alert Levels (0-4) in Wales. All of Wales is currently under Alert Level 0. Find out more about these rules on the government website.

Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should have got letters with advice on how to stay safe, including things like working from home. Here’s the latest Welsh government advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, including where you can get more support with things like food supplies.

After 1 April 2021, the advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people to shield in Wales ended.

Northern Ireland

The advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to shield in Northern Ireland came to an end on 12 April 2021.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, the recommendation is to continue to exercise great care and work from home where possible. If it is not possible, you can go to work, provided your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing.

Find more information on the Northern Ireland government website.

Going to work

People in England have been told they no longer need to work from home. In Scotland, employers have been asked to consider a 'hybrid' working arrangement from 31 January, where employees spend some time in the office and some time at home. In Wales, from 28 January, the work from home law ended and people are encouraged to work from home if they can. In Northern Ireland, the legal requirement for workplaces to maintain social distancing has ended but people are still encouraged to work from home where possible.

Wherever you live in the UK, your employer must make sure your workplace is safe – this means doing a risk assessment at work. We know that some people with diabetes don't feel safe going back to work, so we have been calling on the government and employers to make it safer.

If you have concerns about your safety at work, we've got more information about your rights in our diabetes and work guide.

Children and school

Everyone, including children with diabetes, can get coronavirus. The rules about on social distancing and hand washing apply to children with diabetes too.

Schools should be practicing social distancing for your child. This is to prevent the virus from spreading between children and your home. We know this is easier said than done, and can depend on how old your child is and the size of the school.

You may be worried about whether it is safe for your child to go to school if they have diabetes. Speak to the school and to your child’s diabetes team about your concerns. And read our guide for parents on what you should expect from your child's school – including doing a risk assessment and having the right policies in place.

While the risk of children with diabetes becoming seriously ill with coronavirus is very low, we’ve been in touch with the Department for Education to raise your concerns and ask that when their school-specific guidance is published – it includes guidance on supporting children with health conditions too.

Going to appointments or into hospital

If you have coronavirus symptoms, do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital even if you have an appointment.

If you're already having treatment for something like a foot or eye problem, and you don't have coronavirus symptoms, then your appointments should still carry on. If you're worried about going to your clinic or hospital at this time or want to check whether your appointment is still going ahead, call the number on your appointment letter or speak to your GP.

Measures are in place to keep health and care settings safe. Patients, visitors and NHS staff are still required to continue to use face coverings and maintain social distancing in all healthcare settings.

Some of your appointments with your diabetes healthcare team may be on the phone or online, using a video call. Your diabetes healthcare team will give you advice on the best type of appointment for you at this time. Having a phone or video appointment might feel strange if you're not used to it but we've got advice on preparing for a remote appointments.

Most routine appointments like your annual diabetes review that had been delayed or postponed should be going back to normal. In the meantime, follow your current routine including checking your feet daily, keep to a healthy diet and try to keep active. Eye screening is still going ahead in some circumstances and for some people who are at higher risk of problems, such as pregnant women with diabetes. All eye screening clinics should be using personal protective equipment (PPE).

And remember to get your free flu jab as early as possible. Speak to your GP or go to your local pharmacy. Find out more about the flu jab.

If you are invited to an in-person appointment it’s very important to attend unless you develop coronavirus symptoms. This is to make sure you stay as healthy as possible during the pandemic. Health professionals will be wearing PPE and observing social distancing where possible.

"Flu increases the risk of needing to go into hospital for people with diabetes so we must do all we can to keep protected against flu this year. That's why the free NHS flu jab is so important."
- Dan Howarth, our Head of Care and Diabetes Specialist Nurse

If you spot something new you're concerned about, like a cut or blister on your foot, call your GP and explain your situation. If you can't get through, call 111 for advice. If you have any change in your vision you should contact your local screening service or optometrist.

You may be in a situation where you need medical attention – this may be something related to your diabetes, or it may be something unrelated like an injury or illness. This means you might have to go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital and you might have to wait a while before being seen.

During this time, your care in hospital may be a little different to normal, for example you may not see the diabetes team or not have family with you when you go into hospital. For any problem, regardless of the current situation, you should go to hospital as you would've done before – the NHS is still open. Read our guide to managing your diabetes while in hospital.

Travel

Travel restrictions differ depending on where you live, so we recommend you check the appropriate guidance before travelling:

Check the UK government website for the latest rules on travelling. You could also check the TravelHealthPro website for the latest travel health guidance.

Take a look at our guide to travelling when you have diabetes for lots more information, including travel insurance to cover coronavirus.

Getting food, medicines and tech

We know some people have had challenges getting access to food deliveries and the food you need to stay healthy. We have written to the major supermarkets and are actively monitoring the situation. 

You’ve also been asking about medicines and diabetes technology. There is no need for the public or NHS to stockpile insulin, diabetes medicines or tech. This could cause shortages and put other patients at risk. Pharmacies have been asked to not support patients trying to stockpile. Get more info about picking up prescriptions.

The government has been working with industry and partners to monitor the impact of coronavirus on the UK supply chain of medicines and technology and put in place measures to protect UK patients. This includes banning companies from buying medicines like insulin that are meant for UK patients and selling on for a higher price in another country. This will help to ensure an uninterrupted supply of crucial medicines like insulin for NHS hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

We want to reassure you that if you’re using an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor or a flash glucose monitor (a FreeStyle Libre), you will still be able to get these – whether that’s usually through prescriptions or you pay for these yourself. And if your insulin pump warranty is due to expire soon, the companies who make these will extend this or supply a replacement if that’s needed at any point.

For those who need or choose to buy test strips, we have negotiated with several companies to make certain strips available through our catalogue and online shop.

You can contact NHS Volunteer Responders, who can arrange for a volunteer to deliver your shopping to you.

Tips for picking up your prescriptions

Pharmacies are working hard to make sure that everyone with diabetes gets the medicines they need. Help them to help you by following these tips:

  • Follow government advice and don't go to a pharmacy if you or anyone in your household has a temperature or a new and continuous cough, even if mild. Some organisations like Boots pharmacy have an online service and are encouraging customers to choose for their medicines to be delivered to their homes – you don't have to sign for these now, the delivery driver will leave the package somewhere safe and let you know.
  • Plan ahead where possible. Our advice is to try and order your next prescription at least 14 days before it is due.
  • Put your contact details on prescriptions so pharmacies can let you know when your medicines are ready, so you won’t need to be in the pharmacy for as long. Please don’t ring the pharmacy unless it’s urgent.
  • If you're self-isolating, see if family, friends or neighbours can pick up your medication for you. If you don’t have anyone who can collect your medicine, speak to your community pharmacy for advice about how they can help. There might be community or voluntary groups ready to help in your area.
  • If you're well and can visit the pharmacy yourself, think about how you can help family, friends and neighbours who are self-isolating by collecting their medicines on their behalf (you may need to take ID with you and will need to know the name and address of the person you are collecting for).
  • Don't ask for extra medicine. Continue to get medicines as normal and don't stockpile.
  • Ask your prescriber about electronic repeat dispensing, so you can order your repeat prescriptions online.

Long COVID

Long COVID is used to describe signs and symptoms that last for a few weeks or months after having a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. It can affect your whole body, and your symptoms can change and come and go over time. If you think you might have Long COVID, the first thing you should do is speak to your GP. They will look into your symptoms and first try to find out if there are any other possible causes.

Treatment of Long COVID or COVID fatigue will depend on how long you have been experiencing these symptoms. Treatment is often focused on managing the symptoms and this can vary from person to person.

Your diabetes is unlikely to increase your risk of developing Long COVID. Managing both the symptoms of Long COVID and your diabetes may be difficult but make sure you're aware of your sick day rules and take each day as it comes. This can be a difficult time and we are here for you.

Where can I get more support?

We know some people may not have friends and family able to help while they are staying at home. You may be able to get help from voluntary groups in your area or your local councils or local authorities. Check your government websites for more information.

You could also find out if there's a diabetes local group in your area. Use our postcode search.

Need to talk?

You might be feeling worried and anxious about coronavirus and how it might affect you or your family and friends. We know this could be a stressful time, so you may need support with how you’re feeling. 

We have some helpful information to help you cope with stress and other emotions, or you might like to call our helpline to talk it through with someone. We also have a useful coronavirus thread on our online forum, where members are sharing information and experiences so you might find answers to any more questions.

We recently arranged for Devanshi, who is living with type 1 diabetes and living in Leicester, to meet Anna who works on our helpline. Did you know that you don't need a question about diabetes to call us? Find out what Anna and Devanshi chatted out.

 

Our coronavirus safety assurances

  • We keep up to date on government guidance for each nation: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • We think about risks to staff, volunteers and members of the public will face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them.
  • We carry out risk assessments, which are documented and reviewed regularly, including where we engage with organisations that may come into contact with members of the public on our behalf.
  • We confirm that we have complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19.

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