Former Covid medical officer Van-Tam takes role at vaccine maker Moderna - 4 minutes read

Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK’s former deputy chief medical officer who became a household name during the pandemic, has become a senior medical consultant to the Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna.

Known by the initials JVT and remembered for the striking metaphors he used during Downing Street briefings on the progress of the virus, he took up the role as part-time clinical adviser to the American biotechnology company on 2 May.

Van-Tam, a professor who was knighted in the 2022 new year honours, was a member of the government’s vaccine taskforce during the pandemic, which made decisions on supply contracts for Covid jabs and investments in manufacturing and clinical opportunities.

He stepped down from his government post in March last year, to take up a new role at the University of Nottingham.

The UK government bought tens of millions of Covid jabs from Moderna during the pandemic, and struck a 10-year partnership with the US drugmaker to boost research and development of mRNA vaccines in the UK, including constructing a new vaccine factory.

Announcing the appointment on LinkedIn, Moderna said Van-Tam would be reporting to its chief medical officer, Paul Burton. It declined to disclose his advisory fee but said the appointment was in accordance with the Department of Health and Social Care’s business appointment rules.

Burton said: “Professor Van-Tam’s significant experience and expertise as a specialist in influenza, including its epidemiology, transmission, vaccinology and pandemic preparedness, as well as a globally renowned academic and educator, will be a vital asset to Moderna as we work to improve population health security.”

Van-Tam is prohibited from using privileged information from his time in government to further his business interests, as first reported by the Financial Times. He will stay on at Nottingham University as senior strategy adviser in medicine.

When Van-Tam left his government role, the then health secretary, Sajid Javid, praised him for his unique approach to explaining crucial information to the public. “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.”

Van-Tam became known for giving Covid updates in a lighthearted way, often using football or other analogies. In June, he was appointed chair of the Lincolnshire Football Association.

A season ticket holder at Boston United, the Lincolnshire team that plays in the sixth tier of the English football league, Van Tam often turned to football to find the words he wanted.

In late 2020, he told the BBC that in the early stages of the pandemic the “away team gave us an absolute battering”, adding: “In the 70th minute we’ve now got an equaliser. OK, we’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it.”

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The announcement of Van-Tam’s appointment to Moderna raised some eyebrows. Rose Whiffen, the senior research officer at Transparency International UK, said: “When companies employ former officials – regardless of whether they worked in that industry before their government role or not – it raises the risk of privileged information being misused for commercial benefit.

“Currently, there are only minimal safeguards against abuse of the revolving door between the public and private sector. The government should prohibit ex-senior civil servants and ministers from taking up positions where they have had substantial responsibility for policy relevant to the hiring company.”

Van-Tam worked at the University of Nottingham before his government role and has also been a consultant to the World Health Organization on influenza since 2004. He worked in the pharmaceutical and vaccines industries from 2000 until 2004, for SmithKline Beecham (which became part of GSK), Roche and a joint venture between Sanofi-Pasteur and MSD.

He became a consultant epidemiologist and head of the pandemic influenza office at the UK Health Protection Agency in 2004 and sat on the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) during the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic.

Source: The Guardian

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