Healthcare Trailblazer: Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam

England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, the Lincolnshire lad who loves football, analogies and public health announcements

Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam recently announced that he will be leaving his role as England's deputy chief medical officer in March.

Born in Lincolnshire to a family of Vietnamese descent, Van-Tam was educated at the prestigious Boston Grammar School, before going on to study medicine at the University of Nottingham. 

Over the past two years, Van-Tam has featured in public health announcements alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson, guiding the UK through the pandemic with a series of colourful analogies.


Van-Tam’s top analogies

Comparing the pandemic to a ‘hosepipe’

In the pandemic’s early days, Van-Tam was asked about the delay between Covid infections and those seeking treatment in hospitals.

“This whole concept is a bit like a hosepipe in your garden. When you turn that tap off, water still comes out of the hosepipe for a few seconds before it dies down. If everyone in a certain area turns on their sprinkler at the same time, pressure will go down.”


Vaccine development ‘a train which has stopped in the station’

In November 2020, Brits were waiting anxiously to be called up for their first vaccine. 

“This to me is like a train journey, it’s wet, it’s windy, it’s horrible. Two miles down the tracks, two lights appear and it’s the train and it’s a long way off and we’re at that point at the moment. That’s the efficacy result.”


Covid vaccines ‘not like a yoghurt’

Once the Pfizer vaccine was approved, discussions turned to its transportation, as the vaccine needs to be stored at a very cold temperature.

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


Covid ‘a goalkeeper that can be beaten’

Van-Tam used the 70th minute of a football match in an analogy for the UK’s current phase of the pandemic.

“It’s gone to penalties, the first player goes up and scores a goal. You haven’t won the cup yet, but it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten.”


What’s next for Van-Tam

The University of Nottingham will welcome back Van-Tam as the university's next Pro-Vice-Chancellor, for the faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

But to the delight of Van-Tam’s analogy-fans, when questioned by an ITV journalist, Van-Tam didn’t rule out appearing on Strictly Come Dancing… 

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