Jonathan Van-Tam to step down as deputy chief medical officer

Job has been "most challenging of my professional career", JVT says
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam gives a coronavirus briefing. Photo: Tolga Akmen/Pool via REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

Deputy chief medical officer Sir Jonathan Van-Tam will leave government at the end of March, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.

Van-Tam, who joined England’s top medical advisory team in 2017 on secondment from the University of Nottingham, will return to the university as pro vice-chancellor for its faculty of medicine and health sciences.

As deputy chief medical officer for health protection, Van-Tam has become a household name during the coronavirus pandemic, often appearing at the government’s Covid briefings.

Behind the scenes, he worked on the Vaccine Taskforce and supported the development of treatments.

He has also played a critical role in previous incidents such as MERS and monkeypox outbreaks, the 2017 to 2018 winter flu and the response to the novichok attacks in 2019, DHSC said.

Van-Tam’s previous jobs include stints at the pharmaceutical companies Roche and Aventis Pasteur MSD, and editor-in-chief of the journal Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, after five years of providing medical care in hospitals.

He has sat on a number of advisory groups including the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and Scientific Pandemic Influenza Committee, and chaired both the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Expert Advisory Group on H5N1 human vaccines.

“My time as DCMO 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,” Van-Tam said in a statement.

“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.”

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said it had been “an honour” to work with the physician.

“JVT’s one-of-a-kind approach to communicating science over the past 2 years has no doubt played a vital role in protecting and reassuring the nation, and made him a national treasure,” he said.

“I pay tribute to his relentless work ethic, sense of public duty and leading role in our incredible vaccination programme – on behalf of DHSC I wish him the best of luck on his return to the University of Nottingham.”

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Van-Tam had been an “outstanding DCMO and public servant”.

“I am profoundly thankful for his steadfast support, advice, leadership and commitment. His communication of public health advice and science has been remarkable,” he said.

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