Sir Jonathan Van-Tam Resigns as England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer

Peter Russell

January 14, 2022

Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as deputy chief medical officer (DCMO) for England to return to the University of Nottingham to take up a new role.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked him for his "extraordinary contribution" during the COVID-19 crisis.

Prof Van-Tam became a well-known face on TV for his liberal sprinkling of analogies to deliver urgent public health messages in an easy-to-understand way – a technique that made him a "national treasure", according to England's Health Secretary, Sajid Javid.

A 'Challenging' Job

Prof Van-Tam, who was knighted in the New Year Honours list, had been on secondment to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) from the University of Nottingham since 2017.

He will return as the pro-vice-chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences when he leaves his current role at the end of March.

Sir Jonathan described his time as DCMO as "the most challenging of my professional career".

He said: "We all wish COVID had never happened. Notwithstanding, it has been the greatest privilege of my professional career to have served the people of the UK during this time."

During the pandemic he worked on the Vaccine Taskforce and supported the development of treatments, and he frequently appeared alongside the Prime Minister at Downing Street briefings, where he was referred to as 'JVT'.

He paid tribute to England's chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, and the rest of his team, as well as "fellow scientists, public health professionals, and clinicians whose support, wisdom and energy has been inspiring".

The Sayings of JVT

During his tenure as DCMO, Prof Van-Tam was renowned for his metaphors and similes that ranged from football, racing, and even public transport.

  • In January last year he compared the race to beat COVID to the final stages of a horse race where the jockey must not fall at the final hurdle. "We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it," he told The Sun.

  • The Boston United fan compared public resilience to measures to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to a football match: "It's a bit like being 3-0 up in a game, and thinking, well we can't possibly lose this now. But how many times have you seen the other side take it 4-3?"

  • In December 2020 he compared the state of the pandemic to scoring an equaliser "It's clear in the first half, the away team gave us an absolute battering," and that "in the 70th minute we've now got an equaliser", but we need to "hold our nerve".

  • Railways came to JVT's mind following approval MRNA approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. "The train has now slowed down safely; it has now stopped in the station, and the doors have opened. What we need now is for people to get on that train."

  • And the difficulties of cold chain handling of the mRNA vaccines gave an obvious opening to talk about dairy products: "This is a complex product with a very fragile cold chain… It's not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge."

"JVT’s one-of-a-kind approach to communicating science over the past two years has no doubt played a vital role in protecting and reassuring the nation," Sajid Javid said.

Vaccinology and Pandemic Preparedness

Prof Van Tam is a specialist in influenza, including its epidemiology, transmission, vaccinology, and pandemic preparedness.

Before his move the DHSC, he was professor of health protection in Nottingham's School of Medicine.

Prof Shearer West, the university's vice-chancellor, said: "All of us at the University are incredibly proud of Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam's work as deputy chief medical officer, in which he has played a major role in steering the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am delighted that Jonathan is returning to Nottingham to join our executive team and lead our renowned Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences as its next Pro-Vice-Chancellor. His academic and leadership expertise is second to none, and the integrity that he has demonstrated in his Government role is fully aligned to our values."

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