COVID: Jonathan Van-Tam blows final whistle on time as England’s deputy chief medical officer

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Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as England’s deputy chief medical officer, Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Sir Jonathan, who was recently knighted, is departing his role to take up a new post at the University of Nottingham.

The health secretary said it has been “an honour” to work with Sir Jonathan and wished him “all the best for the future”.

“It has been an honour to work with JVT and I am hugely grateful for his advice & the vital role he has played in our vaccination programme,” he posted on Twitter.

Live COVID updates as Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam explains departure

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van Tam during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Tuesday September 14, 2021.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: “I would like to thank Jonathan Van-Tam for his extraordinary contribution to our country and his invaluable advice throughout the pandemic. Wishing him the very best for the future.”

Sir Jonathan – or JVT, as the prime minister likes to call him – became a household name during the COVID pandemic, known for explaining scientific concepts in layman’s terms and his love of football analogies.

In a statement announcing his departure, he described his time as deputy chief medical officer as “the greatest privilege” but “the most challenging of my professional career”.

Sir Jonathan has been on secondment to the Department of Health from the University of Nottingham since 2017 and will return to be the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the end of March.

JVT's best 'Van-Tamisms'

• “Follow the guidance. Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.”

• “So this is like getting to the end of the play-off final. It has gone to penalties, the first player goes up, scores the goal. You haven’t won the cup yet, but what it does is it tells you the goalkeeper can be beaten.”

• “I think the mum test is very important here. My mum is 78, she’ll be 79 shortly, and I’ve already said to her: ‘Mum, make sure when you’re called you’re ready – be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age and just be ready to be called’.”

• “It’s the second penalty now, that has also gone into the back of the net, so we are starting to feel in a better position.”

• “The train has now slowed down safely, it has now stopped in the station and the doors have opened.”

• “This is a complex product with a very fragile culture. It is not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times.”

• “Do I believe that we are now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes, I think I do. Do I accept that sometimes, when you are on the glide path, you can have a side wind and that the landing is not totally straightforward, totally textbook? Of course. And this is the real science world that we live in, but yes, I think we are on the glide path – over.”

• “It is like having a spring in a box and you’ve got the lid on. Now you can take the lid off a little, but you haven’t disconnected the spring or broken the spring in any way. If you take the lid right off, the spring is still under tension, off it will go again.”

• “This whole concept is like a hose pipe in your garden with a tap at one end, and when you turn that tap off, water still comes out for a few seconds before it dies down.”

• “If everyone in a certain area turns on their sprinkler in the garden at the same time, the water pressure will go down for a while.”

“It’s clear in the first half, the away team gave us an absolute battering, and what we’ve done now is it’s the 70th minute, they got a goal, and in the 70th minute we’ve now got an equaliser. Okay, we’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it. But the key thing is not to lose it, not to throw it away at this point because we’ve got a point on the board, and we’ve got the draw.”

Sir Jonathan said: “My time as DCMO have been the most challenging of my professional career, especially the COVID response.

“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.”

He continued: “I want to pay tribute to Professor Chris Whitty, the CMO team, my fellow scientists, public health professionals and clinicians whose support, wisdom and energy has been inspiring.

“There are countless numbers who work behind the scenes – all of whom have an unrelenting commitment to help and support the British public. It has been an honour to work with them all.”

Sir Jonathan is widely known for his use of colourful quotes to break down the otherwise complex scientific data at the government’s coronavirus briefings, with his memorable creative takes on the latest medical advice labelled affectionately by some as “Van-Tamisms”.

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University of Nottingham Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West said the university is “incredibly proud” of Sir Jonathan’s work, adding that the institution is “delighted” that he will be returning.

“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. I know that he will take our university’s reputation for excellence in medicine and health sciences to new heights,” Prof West said.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove tweeted: “JVT = Hero.”

Sir Jonathan is best-known for his work in the COVID-19 pandemic where he worked on the Vaccine Taskforce and supported the development of treatments for the virus.

However, as deputy chief medical officer, he has also played important roles in numerous different health incidents, including domestic outbreaks of Monkeypox, the 2017/19 flu season and the Novichok attacks.

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