Coronavirus (COVID-19): highest risk – interviews report – August 2021

Results from qualitative Scottish Government interviews conducted in August 2021 with people at highest clinical risk from COVID-19.


Interviews were conducted with people on the Scottish Government's highest risk list who receive advice and support about being at highest risk from COVID-19.

The 'highest risk list' was previously known as the 'shielding list' and contains around 180,000 people, the majority of whom were previously asked to shield by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). People on the 'highest risk list' are still identified as highest risk from Covid-19, and receive communications, support and advice from the Scottish Government. However, since 9 August 2021 they have been asked to follow the same guidance as the general population.

These phone interviews provide qualitative insight into how people have been feeling since interviews were last carried out in January 2021. Since the last round of interviews:

  • COVID-19 restrictions have decreased to baseline measures as Scotland moved 'beyond level zero'
  • Case numbers have fluctuated, but remained relatively high at the time that interviews were being conducted
  • The vaccination program has been widely rolled out with 94% of those who are on the 'highest risk list' having received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccination at the time

What we wanted to find out

By doing interviews at this stage of the pandemic, we wanted to understand:

  • how people felt about the 'state of the pandemic' in Scotland
  • how comfortable people felt as restrictions were eased
  • experiences of the vaccination campaign in Scotland
  • where participants looked for trusted information
  • what expectations people had when returning to the workplace
  • how people felt about the long term restrictions which are in place 'beyond level 0'
  • if people thought that the highest risk list had any value in the future

Our research approach

We carried out 12 in-depth interviews over the phone or video call using Microsoft Teams. A user researcher facilitated each session which lasted no longer than 60 minutes. Note takers and observers also took part in the sessions.

We recruited participants by selecting contacts who had previously signed up to take part in research and who fit the recruitment criteria.

Participant recruitment criteria

Following discussions with policy team leads, we identified two groups of participants to recruit. The primary recruitment criteria were as follows:

1. People who are immunosuppressed and who are returning, or have already returned, to the workplace as restrictions are eased

2. People who are immunosuppressed and who are not in work. These participants were either unemployed, in education, looking after the home or family, retired or not working because of a long term condition

In addition, secondary recruitment criteria were also chosen to address recruitment gaps identified in previous research to assess if these users had any particular needs or faced particular problems. These participants were:

  • people under 24
  • people who are African, Caribbean or black, Asian, Mixed, or another ethnic group
  • people who may have additional accessibility needs (e.g. who need help with reading
  • people who use English as a second language



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