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COVID advice for paediatric rheumatology patients

Updated 2nd Nov 2022

A coronavirus is a type of virus, which presents with symptoms of:

  • a high temperature; a new, continuous cough; a loss of, or change to, your sense of smell or taste

The evidence shows that most cases in children and young people are mild, even in those on medications for arthritis. The virus causing COVID-19 infection is called SARS Cov2 and like the common cold, COVID-19 infection usually occurs through close contact (within 2 meters for more than 15 minutes) with a person with coronavirus via cough, sneezes or hand contact.

Current government advice is as follows:

Further government advice is available here: - Coronavirus (opens in a new tab)

NHS - COVID-19 symptoms and what to do (opens in a new tab)

If your child develops symptoms and you are concerned this may be coronavirus:

  • Follow government advice as per NHS website (link above)
  • Don’t stop medication unless this is advised by your health professional team

If your child is on regular medications of methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil, azathioprine, leflunomide, baricitinib, tofacitinib or biologics (e.g. etanercept, adalimumab, tocilizumab, infliximab, anakinra, abatacept, rituximab):

  • If in contact with suspected infection – continue medications as usual
  • If coronavirus symptoms develop, follow government advice
  • If the symptoms remain mild, continue medications as usual
  • If your child becomes unwell with persistent cough or fever, withhold the above medication(s), and notify your team who will advise when to restart treatment

Being on any of the above medications does affect your child’s immune system. However, the scientific evidence shows that these medications do not put your child at risk of severe infection were they to catch COVID-19.

If your child is on steroid treatment (‘prednisolone’), do not stop steroids abruptly; continue them on the regime advised by your health professional team. Contact your team if you wish to discuss this further.

If your child on prednisolone becomes unwell (not just a cold, but a fever, significant infection, or vomiting illness), seek advice from your GP urgently regarding whether antibiotics or other treatment is needed, and also contact the Rheumatology Advice Line. If your child cannot take their oral prednisolone due to vomiting, your child will need to attend the emergency department urgently for assessment and administration of alternative steroid medicine as an injection (either IM or IV hydrocortisone).

Rituximab or cyclophosphamide and / or long term steroid: Young people of 12 yrs and older on these treatments may be more at risk from COVID19 infection, and therefore eligible for specific treatments. Please contact the Rheumatology Advice Line, or NHS 119 if you suspect covid infection.

Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. Ibuprofen

There were early media reports regarding the use of NSAIDs in relation to COVID-19. These have been thoroughly investigated:

Resulting report - Commission on Human Medicines advice on ibuprofen and coronavirus (COVID-19) (opens in a new tab).

  • Taking NSAIDs does not increase the risk of catching the virus
  • If you think your child needs the medication for pain or swelling you should continue

For treatment of possible COVID-19 symptoms (fever and cough), paracetamol can be used, if it is suitable for your child to take this medication. Ibuprofen can be used in addition or as an alternative.

COVID-19 vaccination

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have now advised on vaccination in children and young people. In summary:

Most young people 12 years old and over will be offered one dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. This includes children and young people with rheumatological disease who are not taking any immune modulating medications for their condition.

12 - 15 year olds who are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease and hospitalisation will be offered two doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

12 - 15 year olds under our care, taking any of the medications listed at the top of page two (which modify the immune system) at the time of their vaccinations are recommended to have three doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, to ensure that they mount a really protective immune response.

12 - 17 year olds who are household contacts of people of any age who are immunosuppressed will be offered two doses.

For those who have had confirmed COVID-19 infection, it is safe to have the vaccination from 4 weeks after the onset of the symptoms.

The vaccination is a killed vaccine and there is no risk of being infected with the virus, even in those on immune modulating medications. At this time, only the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is licensed to be given to those from 12yrs of age and over. Those who are 16yrs of age and over may be offered this or one of the other vaccines. The rollout is being coordinated by Primary Care Networks and local vaccination hubs. If your child or young person is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, you will be contacted in due course by your Primary Care Network to arrange this.

For further information, please refer to the following websites:

Flu vaccination

Young people under our care with rheumatological conditions are recommended to have flu vaccine. Those who are taking immune modifying medications (listed at the top of page 2), as a general rule, should have ‘killed’ flu vaccine (given by injection) rather than ‘live’ flu vaccine (a spray into the nose). Other live vaccines should also be avoided in children on these medications. There may be exceptions to this for those on very low doses of methotrexate – please seek advice from your team prior to any live vaccines, if this exception is relevant to you. Ideally, for our patients, there should be a gap of 14 days between the COVID-19 vaccination and the flu vaccination.

Further advice

If you need further advice about your medication or you become unwell and the doctor looking after you needs advice, please contact the paediatric rheumatology advice line at the hospital where you have your specialist appointments, during working hours (8:30 - 16:00, Monday to Friday).

Addenbrooke's hospital: 01223 254 988

Norfolk and Norwich hospital: 01603 287 911

Additional resources

Specific advice relating to hospital attendance

Outpatient appointments

Regarding your child’s out-patient appointment at Addenbrooke’s, Jenny Lind, and our paediatric rheumatology outreach clinics:

We are prioritising urgent cases where there may be a flare up of disease or new disease and it is important for us to examine your child. Other appointments will be telephone or video appointments via ‘attend anywhere’. The outpatient team will contact you to confirm whether your appointment is by phone/video or in clinic. If you have not had contact prior to your appointment, please phone the clinic to confirm the arrangements. If you are attending clinic, only one parent can accompany your child (and no siblings).

If you think your child may have COVID-19 or is unwell, please do not bring them to their hospital appointment, but contact your team to let them know you cannot come.

Routine blood monitoring

In order to reduce hospital attendance we will increase the interval between blood tests for certain patients on disease modifying anti rheumatic medications (DMARDs) and biologics to 3 months. This extension will only apply to those who have been on these medications for at least 6 months and have not had an abnormal result in the last 3 months.

Booked infusions of medications

These are going ahead and are now largely taking place in the usual venue. The configuration of the wards may change as we enter a winter season during which we anticipate infections such as flu and RSV to return to normal levels. Please confirm the venue and procedure for your infusion before you attend. Hospital policy again allows one parent to accompany your child and no siblings.

If you have to self- isolate due to suspected COVID 19 infection in your home, you should not attend for your infusion. Please contact us to defer the infusion date to after the isolation period.

COVID isolation for the purpose of a hospital ends after 14 days

Please note: advice is changing on a frequent basis and we will continue to provide the most up to date recommendations for our patients as best as we can.