Coronavirus (COVID-19): shielding survey report - January 2021

Publication of results from a survey conducted between December 2020 and January 2021 which explored areas such as: the impact of services and support provided by the Scottish Government's Shielding Division, thoughts on vaccination, and how pausing shielding in Scotland has impacted different aspects of life.


An online survey was conducted with users of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 ‘Shielding’ service for clinically high risk people. This was defined as people who had previously received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer advising them to shield.

The survey explored;

  • Awareness of and compliance with the guidance for those at higher risk
  • How behaviours have changed since shielding stopped
  • If support services are meeting user needs
  • Expectations on vaccination from people who are at higher risk

The purpose of this work is to;

  • Embed a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of shielding within the teams working on delivering support and information to them.
  • Uncover insights that can inform service and policy design from a user centred perspective in a fast-paced environment.

The survey went live on 21 December 2020 and closed on 11 January 2021, it had 4590 responses.

Important changes to the context of shielding while the survey was live:

  • A few days after the survey was published, Scotland-wide guidance was updated in advance of the Christmas holidays, advising that the whole country would go into Level 4 restrictions from the 26th of December.
  • Due to rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers, mainland Scotland returned to full lockdown on 5th January 2021 and everyone on the shielding list was advised not to go to work.

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

Limitations of this research

This survey is not statistically representative of the wider shielding population, but the sample gives a good indication of the behaviours and attitudes of the group. A demographic breakdown of participants (including comparison with the shielding population) can be found in the Respondents Profile page in the appendix.

Respondents were not required to answer any question 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.

Participants were recruited via:

  • An email sent to individuals signed up to the Shielding Research Participant List, who opted in to being contacted after taking part in a Public Health Scotland survey in May 2020 – these participants are generally very active and engaged (2214 responses)
  • Stakeholder organisations, such as charities and local authorities, encouraging them to take part via their existing networks (2376 responses)

We recognise that people with low digital skills or no internet access would not be able to participate. We provided an offline option for returning the survey, where it could be completed on paper and submitted with the support of third sector partners. However we didn’t receive any submissions through this route.

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 shielding guidance. 9% of respondents answered no and were not permitted to complete the survey. This suggests that many still identify with the term ‘shielding’ despite not technically being ‘on the list’.



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