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Groups at higher risk of developing COVID-19

6-minute read

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.

Some people are more at risk than others of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. Find out more here about vulnerable groups so you can help to protect them.

Who is at risk?

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are:

  • those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID -19 (including in the 48 hours before their symptoms appeared)
  • people in aged care facilities
  • people in detention facilities
  • people in group residential settings
  • people with a disability

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Who is at risk of serious illness?

People are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if they:

  • are age 70 years and older
  • have had an organ transplant and are on immune suppressive therapy
  • have had a bone marrow transplant in the past 24 months
  • are on immune suppressive therapy for graft versus host disease
  • have had a blood cancer — for example, leukaemia, lymphoma or myelodysplastic syndrome — in the past 5 years
  • are having chemotherapy or radiotherapy

People are at moderate risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if they have:

  • chronic kidney failure
  • heart disease
  • chronic lung disease — but excluding mild or moderate asthma
  • a non-blood cancer in the past 12 months
  • diabetes
  • severe obesity with a BMI (body mass index) of 40kg per square metre or more
  • chronic liver disease
  • some neurological conditions such as stroke or dementia
  • some chronic inflammatory conditions and treatments
  • other primary or acquired immunodeficiencies
  • poorly controlled blood pressure

Having 2 or more conditions might increase the risk, regardless of the person’s age. If the condition is severe or poorly controlled, this might also increase the risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Other factors that might increase the risk of severe illness include:

  • age — risk increases as you get older, even for those under 70
  • being male
  • living in poverty
  • smoking

People with medical conditions should discuss their risk with their doctor and how they can protect themselves.

People with disability

Some people with disability will be at greater risk because:

  • they have different conditions that overlap, including chronic conditions and weakened immune states
  • they have difficulties in physical distancing – especially people who rely on support and assistance from family, carers and support workers
  • they may be unable to safely wear a mask
  • they live in higher risk accommodation, such as a group home or larger facility

If I’m pregnant, is there a risk to me or my baby?

A pregnant person with COVID-19 is at greater risk of developing severe illness than a non-pregnant person with COVID-19. They are also at greater risk than a non-pregnant person of the same age of needing admission to a hospital or intensive care unit, or ventilation to support their breathing.

Their unborn baby has a slightly increased risk of being born prematurely, and an increased risk of needing admission to a hospital newborn care unit.

Pregnant women with the following conditions are more likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19 than pregnant women who don’t have these conditions:

  • being older than 35 years
  • being overweight or obese
  • having pre-existing (pre-pregnancy) high blood pressure
  • having pre-existing (pre-pregnancy) type 1 or type 2 diabetes

Vaccination against COVID-19 with the Comirnaty (Pfizer) or the Moderna (Spikevax) vaccine is recommended for all pregnant people, all of whom are eligible to receive it.

If you have COVID-19 when your baby is born, every precaution will be taken to keep your baby safe so you can still have contact and breastfeed if you choose.

Pregnant people are also at serious risk from other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu. They should practise physical distancing, good hand and cough or sneeze hygiene, and get their free flu vaccination. Generally, there should be at least 7 days between receiving the flu and the COVID-19 vaccinations.

A doctor or midwife can advise on how to stay healthy during this time.

Learn more about COVID-19 and pregnancy.

Are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the most at risk of serious infection?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in remote communities are at a higher risk of serious infection from COVID-19 because it can be harder to access healthcare and there are higher rates of other health conditions in the community.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years of age and older who have pre-existing medical conditions are strongly advised — for their own protection — to continue to stay home. They are also strongly advised to avoid contact with others, avoid non-essential travel, maintain good physical distancing and hand hygiene, and download the COVIDSafe app. Where possible, consider getting groceries or medications delivered or picked up by friends and family.

To keep vulnerable members of the community safe, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to maintain good hand hygiene, stay home if you don’t need to travel or feel unwell, and keep 1.5 metres from people you don’t live with.

To help protect the local Aboriginal population, Western Australia has banned all non-essential travel to, and from, remote indigenous communities. Exemptions are allowed for the delivery of essential goods, services and medical care.

Learn more about Western Australia travel restrictions.

Download the booklet Keep Our Mob Safe.

Get more information on the management plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Populations.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, or use these COVID-19 tools and resources:

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2021


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