ONS statistician honoured for lifesaving pandemic work  

Vahé Nafilyan "wasn’t afraid to put novel ideas forward" when Covid hit, national statistician says

By Francine Worsoff

25 Oct 2023

The head of the Office for National Statistics' Health Modeling Hub has been awarded an OBE for services to statistics and public health during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of this year’s honorary awards to foreign nationals after his life-saving work at the ONS. 

Vahé Nafilyan, a Normandy native and UK resident of nine years, received the honour for his work helping to understand the inequalities in Covid-19 mortality and vaccination uptake.  

“When I saw the email, I didn’t believe it,” Nafilyan said. “After checking the address I realised it was real – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.”   

“When the pandemic hit, Vahé wasn’t afraid to put novel ideas forward,” national statistician Sir Ian Diamond said. “He is a stellar example of how being proactive pays off.”

Diamond added that Nafilyan's work on inequities in Covid-19 mortality and vaccination uptake led to lifesaving interventions that helped boost vaccination uptake across various groups. “His modelling work meant shielding patients were being offered the vaccine first,” he said. 

"He’s achieved all that, and much more, whilst demonstrating fantastic leadership skills in the process. I couldn’t be more delighted that his incredible work has been recognised with an OBE.”     

Nafilyan, 34, said he had not foreseen his work having such a direct impact on people’s lives. “I just found myself in the right job, doing what I can with statistical modelling to help the country respond to the pandemic, but it was certainly a hectic time,” he said. 

A busy newlywed who tied the knot during the pandemic, Nafilyan said he was “so wrapped up” in his analysis that he ended up buying his tux the day before the wedding. “Luckily my wife, who also works for the ONS, was incredibly supportive throughout,” he added. Nafilyan, who is expecting a baby with his wife in the near future, said they have decided to wait until the baby is born to celebrate together.  

Nafilyan should travel from Cardiff, where he lives, to collect his OBE from Buckingham Palace “in the next few months,” meaning there could be a newborn guest in attendance. “We’d love to bring the baby along!” he said. 

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