Sir Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as one of the Government’s top scientific advisers, it was revealed today.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, who has become something of a household name, is set to exit his current role at the end of March.
He will then return to the University of Nottingham to focus on academic work.
Announcing his resignation, the 57-year-old said it had been the ‘greatest privilege of my professional career’ to serve the UK public during the pandemic.
He paid tribute to Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and other scientists working behind the scenes to keep the virus at bay, but made no mention of ministers.
Hugely popular Sir Jonathan, considered to be one of Boris Johnson’s favourite advisers, shot to fame in the early stages of the pandemic for his use of metaphors to explain complex science.
Trialled on his wife and three children before being presented to the public, he has variously conjured up images of rail travel, football and flying over the last two years.
Tributes have started to pour in for his work during the pandemic, with ministers and scientists alike saying it has been an ‘honour’ to work with him.
Professor Whitty said he was ‘profoundly grateful’ for the support of Sir Jonathan, who is also affectionately known as JVT. He added: ‘His communication of public health advice and science has been remarkable.’
The Prime Minister thanked Sir Jonathan for his ‘extraordinary contribution’ to the country and ‘invaluable advice’ throughout the pandemic.
And Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it had been an ‘honour’ to work with Sir Jonathan, and that he was ‘hugely grateful’ for his ‘vital role’ in the pandemic.
It comes amid revelations over a party held in Downing Street during the first national lockdown. The Prime Minister issued a grovelling apology to the nation for the event yesterday, but insisted he thought it was a ‘work event’.
Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as one of the Government’s top advisers
Announcing his resignation, Sir Jonathan said: ‘My time as deputy chief medical officer has 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.
‘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.
JVT’s best metaphors: From rail travel, to aviation to football
Below are some of JVT’s best metaphors from Downing Street conferences.
- On social distancing: ‘Follow the guidance — don’t tear the pants out of it.’
- On the gap between falling hospitalisations and deaths: ‘It’s a bit like a hose-pipe in your garden with a tap up one end. You turn that tap off, water still comes out of the hose-pipe for a few seconds.’
- On vaccine trial success: ‘This is like getting to the end of the play-off final. 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 the goalkeeper can be beaten.’
- On vaccine development: ‘Do i believe we are now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes I think I do. Over.’
- On the Pfizer jabs being approved: ‘The train has now slowed down safely. It has now stopped in the station. And the doors have opened — that was the authorisation by the MHRA. What we need now is for people to get on that train and travel safely to their destinations.’
‘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.
‘I will continue to work until the end of March and look forward to the next challenge.’
Sir Jonathan has been a straight-talking voice of calm authority in the midst of uncertainty during the Covid pandemic.
He has fronted many Downing Street press conferences, explaining complex science to the public in metaphors.
It is not clear how long his notice period was for the role of England’s chief medical officer.
Professor Whitty paid tribute to Sir Jonathan, saying he had been an ‘outstanding’ public servant, and that he was ‘profoundly thankful’ for his support throughout the pandemic.
And ministers have also come forward to thank Sir Jonathan for his work in the pandemic, and to wish him the best for the future.
The Prime Minister said: ‘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.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid paid tribute to Sir Jonathan, saying it has been an ‘honour to work side-by-side’ with him during the pandemic.
He said: ‘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, and made him a national treasure.
‘I pay tribute to his relentless work ethic, sense of public duty and leading role in our incredible vaccination programme — on behalf of the Department of Health I wish him the best of luck on his return to the University of Nottingham.’
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Sir Jonathan’s resignation was a ‘big loss’ to the UK Government.
She tweeted: ‘Although not an adviser to Scotland’s Government, JVT’s observations and opinions in the context of the four nations discussions have always been wise and helpful.
‘I wish him well.’
Disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock also thanked Sir Jonathan for his work, saying he will be ‘most remembered for cheering us all up in lockdown with his extraordinary metaphors’.
Mr Hancock said: ‘JVT is one of the best public health communicators in hisotry.
‘His public service continues back in academia. The whole world owes him our thanks.’
Born and bred in Lincolnshire, Sir Jonathan attended Boston Grammar school where his father taught mathematics before spending most of his working life in academia.
He first began honing his rhetoric on camping trips with army cadets to North Wales, where he practiced turning medicine into stories.
He became England’s deputy chief medical officer in 2017, and has played an important role fighting outbreaks of MERS, monkeybox and influenza.
But perhaps his most notable role was during the Covid pandemic, where he joined the vaccines taskforce and supported the development of new treatments.
Sir Jonathan was awarded a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list for his services fighting the pandemic.
FROM VIETNAM TO LINCOLNSHIRE: VAN TAM’S FAMILY HISTORY
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has been a straight-talking voice of calm authority in the midst of uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.
The softly spoken deputy chief medical officer (DCMO) for England is a regular and reassuring sidekick at the once-daily Downing Street briefings.
But, where some of his colleagues prefer a slightly more dispassionate and clinical approach at the podium, the 57-year-old has endeared himself to the watching public by highlighting the personal impact of the coronavirus, peppering his answers with references to his hobbies, his ethnicity and his family history.
Jonathan Nguyen Van-Tam was given his middle name after his grandfather who served as the prime minister of Vietnam between 1952 and 1954.
Nguyen Van-Tam was originally a school teacher born during the French colonial period in 1895
He was picked by the French in the early 1940s to be the Governor of Northern Vietnam before becoming Prime Minister.
His son was General Nguyen Van Hinh — Professor Van-Tam’s uncle — the Chief of Staff of the Vietnamese National Army, the military force created by the French to fight for them against the Communist Revolution.
Jonathan Van-Tam’s father Paul fled the war in the 1960s, eventually settling in Lincolnshire where the deputy chief medical officer was born.
JVT attended Boston Grammar School in Boston, in the East Midlands county, where his father was a maths teacher. He graduated in medicine from the University of Nottingham in 1987.
After five years of hospital-based clinical medicine, Van-Tam trained in public health and epidemiology and developed an interest in influenza and respiratory viruses.
He became a Senior Lecturer at the University of Nottingham in 1997 before taking a number of high profile jobs as a medical director at British pharma giants.
Van-Tam returned to the public sector in 2004 at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, where he was Head of the Pandemic Influenza Office until October 2007.
He has also chaired the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Expert Advisory Group on bird flu, and was a member of the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) during the 2009-10 pandemic.
Since 2014 he has been Chair of the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
On 2 October 2017 he took up the role of Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.