JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charityCoronavirus (COVID-19) – information for people living with type 1 diabetes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – information for people living with type 1 diabetes

Updated 8 January 2021 at 12.50pm.

Global headlines are dominated by news about the novel coronavirus. We know that many people with type 1 diabetes want more information and may be concerned.

Below are some useful links and information about the virus and what people with type 1 diabetes need to know.

New changes to each section have an [updated] date next to their title.

For all the latest Government measures, visit:

What is it? [updated 5Jan21]

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses. Most of them cause illness in animals, but seven known types of coronaviruses cause illness in humans. SARS-CoV-2 is one of those viruses – it causes the illness COVID-19.

You may have heard the news headlines about a variant of the virus (named VUI – 202012/01). This is a version of the virus that has some naturally occurring genetic changes (mutations). Some mutations may change the characteristics of the virus and how it interacts with humans. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the Pfizer or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine would not protect people against the new strain.

What are the symptoms? [updated 18May20]

The symptoms of coronavirus are any of the following:

  • A new, continuous cough
  • A high temperature (fever)
  • Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

Anyone in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland experiencing symptoms can book a test by visiting www.nhs.uk/coronavirus

Those unable to access the Internet can call 119 in England and Wales or 0300 303 2713 in Scotland and Northern Ireland to book a test.

Coronavirus and type 1 diabetes [updated 23May20]

We know that the news headlines about the emerging NHS data on COVID-19 and deaths relating to diabetes are concerning. That’s why JDRF has reacted to this by posting our news article.

Not everyone living with type 1 diabetes is at higher risk of becoming severely unwell with coronavirus, or of having complications from it. However, some, especially those who are older or with underlying risk factors, which include other health conditions, social factors or ethnic minority groups, may be more severely affected and everyone is encouraged to follow the Government advice closely.

Our comments on recent initial data are mentioned here. As further work emerges on risk factors and more specific guidance is available, we will share it. The higher risk in people with type 1 diabetes in hospital is strongly linked to older age, which is consistent with what we know about the impact of coronavirus on the general population.

All people living with diabetes have been advised to implement stringent social distancing measures. It is very important that you adhere to these and that you’re prepared by ensuring you have adequate medical supplies and consumables available, including access to ketone testing strips.

Coronavirus vaccine [updated 8Jan21]

You will have likely seen recent promising results of coronavirus vaccine development and the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech, University of Oxford (AstraZeneca) and Moderna vaccines in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). These vaccines help prevent the disease COVID-19 which is caused by coronavirus. The MHRA ensure all medicines and medical devices in the UK are safe before they can be given to the general population. The Government has also ordered vaccines from four other companies – we will continue to update this page when we know more as those companies haven’t shared results from their trials yet.

For those living with type 1 diabetes, we strongly encourage you to receive the vaccine when you are offered one. You can read more about how type 1 diabetes and coronavirus interact in the ‘Coronavirus and type 1 diabetes’ section above.

At present there is still uncertainty about the length of protection any of the emerging vaccines will provide, and also how effective it will be in stopping the spread of the virus. It could also take time for the body time to build up protection, especially if two injections are needed.

The JCVI (the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations) has released guidance about priority groups and timings. There are currently nine priority groups, listed sequentially by their priority – see this link for more detail. The Government hope to be able to offer everyone in the top four priority groups their first dose by mid-February. Unless they are 65 or older, live in a care home or work in the NHS, people living with diabetes are in group 6 (People aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious illness or death from coronavirus) – at present, we do not know exact details about when this will be.

Most children can’t have the vaccine right now. This is because coronavirus vaccines haven’t been tested in children yet and children remain at a very low risk of developing a severe illness if they catch coronavirus. The Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine may be given to children who are 16 or 17 years old if they are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or if they have an underlying health condition, like diabetes.

As trials with children are completed, we’ll get a better understanding of how safe and effective the different vaccines are within this age group.

If you’re pregnant and have a high risk of catching coronavirus or have an underlying health condition, like diabetes, you should be offered a vaccine. Your healthcare team should talk you through the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine.

For further detail and for the latest information, please ensure you visit the NHS Coronavirus Vaccine website.

Dedicated diabetes helpline [updated 20May20]

NHS Diabetes Programme, alongside Diabetes UK and industry partners Novo Nordisk and Insulet have created a National Diabetes Advice line which provides free, immediate clinical advice for type 1 and other types of diabetes (in case your local team aren’t contactable).

You can access this through Diabetes UK’s helpline by:

  • Calling: 0345 123 2399, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm
  • Email: helpline@diabetes.org.uk
  • If you’re in Scotland call: 0141 212 8710, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. Email: helpline.scotland@diabetes.org.uk

Reducing your risk [updated 7Jan21]

On 4th January 2021, the Prime Minister announced new restrictions across the United Kingdom.

  • In England there is a national lockdown. This means everyone must stay at home as much as possible, except for specific reasons outlined on the Government website
  • In Scotland there is a national lockdown (called enhanced Level 4 restrictions). This means everyone must stay at home as much as possible, except for specific reasons outlined on the Government website
  • In Wales there are Alert Level 4 restrictions. Find out more about these rules on the Government website
  • In Northern Ireland the Government advice is for everyone to stay at home as much as possible. Find out more on the Government website

As things are rapidly changing, please ensure you check the latest information and guidance for where you live regularly.

However, the advice for people living with diabetes across the UK has not changed:

  • Stay at home as much as possible
  • Minimise contact with people outside of your household if you live within an area where you’re still allowed to meet inside other people’s homes
  • Follow social distancing measures at all times. This includes keeping 2 metres apart from other people where possible
  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
  • Wear a face covering (see below)
  • Remember – if you’re already self-isolating or shielding keep following those rules
  • Download the relevant COVID-19 app for your country (see below)

The UK Government is reviewing lockdown restrictions on a weekly basis. If you have diabetes and you’re planning on inviting friends or family into your home (if you’re allowed to do so), speak to them about whether they have had coronavirus symptoms in the last 2 weeks. However mild these symptoms, they shouldn’t be visiting. Find out more about these changes on the Government website.

We also recommend downloading the NHS COVID-19 app if you are in England or Wales, the Test & Protect app if you’re in Scotland, or the StopCOVID NI app in Northern Ireland. These are contact tracing apps which are one of the fastest ways of knowing when you’re at risk from coronavirus. The more of us that use it, the better we can control coronavirus.

It is possible that masks or face coverings can help reduce and slow the risk of virus infection. This is true for everyone, including people living with type 1 diabetes.

There are exemptions for some groups from wearing face coverings but this varies depending on where you live. For more information, keep up to date with your national Government websites around face coverings:

If you see others not wearing a mask, there may be invisible reasons for this. For those that are exempt from wearing a face covering, there are badges and cards that can be printed or saved onto your phone. You can find these on the Government website.

We understand that wearing a face mask can take time to get used to and may feel strange to start off with. There are various different types of face coverings available, so try and choose one that suits you best.

Shielding advice [updated 7Jan21]

Shielding is 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 means staying at home almost all of the time, with no face-to-face contact.

Unless they have another condition, most people with type 1 diabetes are not in the shielding category; you can view more detail about those who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable here. People with diabetes are in the ‘clinically vulnerable group’. So, having diabetes doesn’t automatically mean you needed to shield.

If you’re ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ and being advised to shield, you’ll get a new shielding letter. This means avoiding leaving the house, including working from home. The following links will guide you to Government advice on shielding and protecting ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people:

We know some people may not have friends and family able to help while they are isolated at home. The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme has been set up in England to do just that – with an army of volunteers helping with things like shopping and medication, as well as setting up phone chats to help with loneliness. People with diabetes who are isolated at home can now access this service. The number to call is 0808 196 3646 and you can get more information about the service on the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme website.

What should I do if I have any symptoms? [updated 20Jul20]

It is important if you have symptoms, however mild, that you follow all the latest advice.

Ensure you continue to monitor your blood glucose and implement your sick day rules, checking for ketones more closely. Contact your diabetes specialist team if you feel you need additional support for your diabetes, or if you feel you might be at risk of developing DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis).

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Only contact the NHS 111 service (by phone or online) if:

  • You feel like you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
  • Your condition gets worse
  • Your symptoms do not get better after 7 days

For any medical emergency, continue to call 999.

Prescriptions

We know these are challenging times, and getting hold of your prescriptions may be a concern. However, pharmacies across the country are working hard to make sure you can get hold of what you need. It’s important to plan ahead and to check levels of your prescription items, and where possible order at least 14 days ahead before your prescription is due. Ask your prescriber about electronic repeat dispensing, so you can order your repeat prescriptions online.

It’s important that you don’t go to a pharmacy if you, or anyone in your household, have any symptoms of Coronavirus. Many pharmacies offer an online service, and are encouraging customers to choose that method and have their medication delivered. You also don’t currently need to sign for these deliveries; check with your pharmacy for further details.

If you do need to collect your prescription, 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.

School [updated 5Jan21]

Everyone, including children with diabetes, can get coronavirus. Usually children have very mild symptoms and we are not aware of any children with diabetes who have died from coronavirus in the UK. However, as with all people with diabetes, an illness like coronavirus can make it harder to manage a child’s diabetes and they still have a risk of DKA.

When schools return following on from the new national lockdowns announced it is therefore very important that you make sure children follow all social distancing and hand washing recommendations to reduce their risk of catching it.

Schools should be practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. We know this is easier said than done based on the size of the school and particularly with younger children.

We understand you may be worried about the safety of children returning to school if they have type 1 diabetes. As always, reach out to your usual healthcare team and your school about your concerns. The school should be able to explain their processes for risk assessments and policies to keep everyone safe.

Insulin, medicines and diabetes tech

The Government has been working with industry and partners to constantly monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the UK supply chain of medicines and technology, and have implemented measures to protect UK patients. There is absolutely no need for anyone to stockpile insulin, diabetes medicines or technology. By doing so, you could risk others by putting additional pressure on the supply chain. Pharmacies have been asked to not support any patients who are trying to stockpile.

DTN-UK have been in contact with all companies supplying insulin pump, continuous glucose monitoring and flash glucose monitoring in the UK at this time. We can reassure all users of diabetes technology that none of these companies are anticipating significant interruptions to their supply chain due to the Coronavirus crisis. We would ask that people do not attempt to stockpile supplies of consumables as this is unnecessary and may create problems for other users. If demand remains as normal, there will be no shortages. Companies may experience short term supply problems with some items, as is usual, but if this occurs these are expected to resolve quickly. You will be contacted in the event that this situation changes. Some pump manufacturers have extended their pump warranties. If your pump’s warranty will expire in the next few months, check out the manufacturer’s website for more information. See more detail here.

Emotional Wellbeing during these times

We know the type 1 diabetes community are understandably worried and anxious about the virus, and how COVID-19 might affect you, your family or friends.

We have some helpful information on our Emotional Wellbeing page, or you may like to consider calling Diabetes UK’s helpline to talk to someone. The NHS ‘Every Mind Matters’ website has some useful and practical information, too.

Work [updated 23Sep20]

Current Government advice is to work from home wherever possible, however, if you do need to be in a physical work location your employer should be making sure your workplace is safe to minimise any potential risk to employees, including completing a risk assessment for you. We understand not everyone feels comfortable going back to a physical office – ensure you reach out to your employer to learn about the steps they’re implementing and to discuss your commute and adjustments that can be made, especially if you need to use public transport (such as avoiding rush hour). Also discuss whether continuing to work from home is a possibility. You may also find our Workplace Toolkit useful to help aide these discussions.

Travel [updated 7Jan21]

Current guidance from the Government has placed additional restrictions on travel. These restrictions differ depending on where you live so please ensure you check the relevant guidance before traveling:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising British nationals against all but essential international travel. Check out the UK Government website for all the latest updates on where and when you can travel.

For more information about travelling with type 1 see our travel pages. You may also like to explore our airport security work and travelling with type 1 kit.

Additional information

This page will be updated as official advice changes. It is maintained by JDRF UK’s Community Engagement team and is reviewed/approved by healthcare professionals.

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