Coronavirus (COVID-19): highest risk - survey report - July 2021

Results from an online survey conducted by the Scottish Government Shielding Division in July 2021 with people at highest clinical risk from Covid-19.


An online survey was conducted by the Scottish Government in July 2021 with more than 4,600 people who have been identified as being at highest clinical risk from Covid-19 by clinicians. These were people who had previously received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer advising them to follow guidance for those at highest risk (this may have included asking them to shield).

The survey explored current views and behaviours of people identified as highest risk, including:

  • vaccination status and any barriers to vaccination
  • recent activity and moving towards and beyond Level 0
  • any impact on face-to-face medical appointments
  • expectations around returning to the workplace or education settings

The purpose of this work was to;

  • gain a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of people at highest risk, who may formerly have been asked to shield, for the teams working on delivering support and information to them.
  • uncover insights to inform service and policy design from a user centred perspective in a fast-paced environment.

The survey went live on 16 July 2021 and closed on 26 July 2021, it had 4607 responses.


Important external context and changes to restrictions while the survey was live:

  • people at highest risk were sent a CMO letter about the plans for moving to Level 0 on 15 July 2021
  • this letter also advised that the terminology of shielding would be moving to highest risk
  • all areas in Scotland moved to Level 0 on 19 July 2021
  • case numbers were relatively high in the run up to and during the survey being live with 1749 positive cases on 16 July and 1371 positive cases on 26 July
  • approximately 93% of people on the highest risk list had received both doses of the vaccine
  • evidence of the effectiveness of vaccination for those at highest risk and in particular those who were immunosuppressed was emerging at this stage – subsequently published studies demonstrated its efficacy for this group

Therefore, individual’s circumstances were different depending on when they completed the survey. This could impact the results for some questions.

Recruitment approach

Participants were recruited via:

  • An email sent to individuals signed up to the Highest Risk Research List, who opted-in to being contacted about taking part in research related to the highest risk group – these participants are generally very active and engaged (4050 responses)
  • Distributing the link to the survey (557 responses) via:
    • publication on the website’s page on shielding
    • asking stakeholder organisations such as charities and local authorities to encourage participation through their existing networks
    • articles shared through Scottish media after mention of the survey in an announcement on the move towards Level 0 from the First Minister on 13 July 2021

Limitations of this research

This survey is not statistically representative of the wider shielding population as it does not represent the make-up of the highest risk list. However, the sample is robust and gives a strong indication of the behaviours and attitudes of the group. A demographic breakdown of participants (including comparison with the overall highest risk population) can be found in the Respondents Profile page in the appendix.

The majority of responses were from those already signed up to the Highest Risk Research List who are a very active and engaged group.

We recognise that people with low digital skills or no internet access would not be able to participate. We were unable to provide an alternative route for submitting responses in the tight timeframe.

None of the questions which respondents answered were mandatory, except the initial screening one. This explains why the total number of responses fluctuates throughout the survey as they could skip past questions they did not want to answer.

Eligibility to participate

At the start of the survey, we asked participants to tell us whether they had received a letter from Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer advising them to follow guidance for those identified as at being highest risk. 2% of respondents answered no and were not permitted to complete the survey.



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