UK COVID-19 Update: Push for Vaccine Uptake, 'Nothing Conclusive' to Say End of Restrictions Will Be Delayed

Peter Russell

May 18, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Public Urged to Book a Vaccine

Ministers stepped up calls for people to book a COVID vaccination as soon as they are eligible due to increasing concern about the B.1.617.2 'Indian' variant. England's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, urged anyone who was vaccine hesitant to look at the situation in Bolton, where most people in hospital with COVID-19 were eligible for a vaccine but had not had one.

Mr Hancock said 86 local councils had 5 or more cases of the variant, that is considered more transmissible.

It comes as lockdown restrictions eased in England, Wales, and most of Scotland on Monday.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons yesterday that there had been 2323 confirmed cases of B.1.617.2 across the UK. That was an increase from 1313 when Public Health England last updated its figures on May 12.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that surge testing was taking place in Bolton. He also said that the Government was "keeping a very close eye" on the football match at Old Trafford in Manchester this evening, where 10,000 fans were expected to gather.

Vaccine Rollout for People in Their 30s Continues

More than a million more people will be eligible to book a COVID vaccine this week as the NHS continues its rollout to people in their 30s.

Texts inviting people to book a vaccination will be sent to those aged 37 today, and to 36 year olds on Wednesday.

NHS national medical director Prof Stephen Powis, said: “Bookings for the fastest and most successful NHS vaccination programme in history continue to surge with more than 930,000 appointments made in a matter of days since opening up to 38 and 39 year olds.

Up until May 17, 36,811,405 first dose vaccines, and 20,546,452 second doses had been administered in the UK, latest official figures showed.

Other COVID Developments


  • The Prime Minister said there was nothing "conclusive at the moment" to suggest that the Government would have to deviate from its roadmap of easing lockdown restrictions. Boris Johnson said ministers and health experts were looking at the virus epidemiology "the whole time" and added: "We'll know a lot more in a few days' time".


  • The number of deaths involving COVID-19 in England decreased to 124 in Week 18 compared with 198 in Week 17, figures from the National Office for Statistics showed. In Wales, the number decreased to 5 in Week 18 compared with 7 in Week 17. Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, told the Science Media Centre: "Given the concern about the Indian variant of concern, B.1.617.2, it's worth mentioning that any deaths arising from the variant just won't show up in this data release."


  • Research published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine found that in-hospital mortality declined from 32% at the start of the first wave of the pandemic to 16% at the end of the first wave. The study found reductions in mortality were associated with adoption of steroids, as well as improvements in respiratory support and critical care use.


  • The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement called on countries and pharmaceutical companies to move much faster toward a solution to the "glaring inequity" in access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world. We need to agree now on ways to increase COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution, it said.

New Guidance on Cold Storage for Pfizer Jab

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) extended the time that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be kept unopened at normal fridge temperatures of between 2-8 degrees C from 5 days to one month.

The EMA had previously advised that vials needed to be kept at between -70C and -80C until they were transferred to a normal fridge a few days before use.

The change was approved following assessment of additional stability study data submitted to the EMA by the marketing authorisation holder.

The EMA said that increased flexibility in the storage and handling of the vaccine was expected to have a significant impact on the roll out of the vaccine across the European Union.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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