Van-Tam says 'I'd be at the front of the queue if I could' for Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine - but he refuses to guarantee normality by Easter as retired doctors and students are drafted in for huge logistics operation


  • Jonathan Van-Tam said if he could 'morally' justify receiving it over more vulnerable people then he'd do so
  • Poll today suggested four in ten Brits want politicians and Government advisers take jab first to show it's safe
  • Deputy CMO also said he'd encouraged his 78-year-old mother to be ready to take the jab as soon as possible

England's deputy chief medical officer today claimed he would be 'at the front of the queue' to take Pfizer's breakthrough coronavirus vaccine if he were eligible in a bid to reassure Brits about its safety. 

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam held a press conference today outlining the steps that have to be taken before the jab is dished out en masse around the country. But when pressed, he could not guarantee the vaccine would get Britain back to normal by Easter because of the colossal logistical challenge ahead.  

Full data on Pfizer's vaccine will be published this month and it'll need to get the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before it is deemed safe enough to administer to millions of Brits. 

This process is expected to be wrapped up within weeks and the NHS is on standby to start deploying the shot by December 1. The vaccine needs to be stored at -70C and can spoil easy with even slight changes in temperature, which makes transporting and storing the vaccine a logistical headache.

To demonstrate his full confidence in the vaccine, the deputy CMO said he had also encouraged his 78-year-old mother to be ready to take the jab as soon as she's offered it. It came after a Daily Mail poll today suggested four in 10 Brits want politicians and Government advisers to take the vaccine first to prove it's safe.

Under the Government's vaccine distribution plans, Professor Van-Tam's mother would fall under into third priority group, with care home residents and staff first in line, followed by over-80s and frontline NHS workers. At 56 years old, Professor Van-Tam himself would not be eligible to receive the vaccine until sometime next year after.

Britain is getting ready to launch the biggest immunisation drive in British history after preliminary data from Pfizer - the American drugs giant which makes Viagra - showed its vaccine was 90 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19.  Hopes were raised further yesterday when prominent Government scientists claimed life would return to normal by Easter without the need for draconian lockdown rules.  

Retired doctors and medical students will be drafted in to help dispense vaccines from a thousand GP surgeries around the country amid fears there are not enough staff to carry out the mammoth operation. The army will also be used to help transport the vaccines between labs and clinics. 

The Y-axis shows the three phases of the Government's plans to distribute the vaccine, with age being one of the driving factors behind who gets priority. The X-axis is the number of Britons that could be immunised by next summer

The Y-axis shows the three phases of the Government's plans to distribute the vaccine, with age being one of the driving factors behind who gets priority. The X-axis is the number of Britons that could be immunised by next summer

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he would be 'at the front of the queue' if it was up to him to take a coronavirus vaccine

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he would be 'at the front of the queue' if it was up to him to take a coronavirus vaccine

Asked whether high-profile Government figures such as himself or the Prime Minister should take a vaccine first to prove to the public it is safe, Professor Van-Tam said: 'If I could, rightly and morally, be at the very front of the queue, then I would do so because I absolutely trust the judgment of the MHRA on safety and efficacy. 

'But that clearly isn't right; we have to target the most highest risk individuals in society and that is how it should be in terms of our system.

'If I could be at the front of the queue, then I would be. I think the "mum test" is very important here.

'My mum is 78, she will be 79 shortly, and I have already said to her "Mum, make sure when you are called you are ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age".'

Also in the briefing, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said 'there is absolutely no chance' the organisation would compromise on standards of safety or effectiveness when it comes to vaccines. 

Professor Van-Tam said he is willing to help vaccination efforts in a bid to ensure people receive a jab as quickly as possible. 'This is one of the most important, if not the most important, vaccination programme we've done for decades,' he said


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 (CMO) 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 56-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.

'And from that perspective, I don't mind telling you, I've had the conversation at home. I I can help with this in some evenings and weekends, doing some extra vaccinations sessions myself, then I'm going to. That's a given if I can get on the list and be useful.'

Professor Van-Tam was unable to say whether lives would be back to normal by Easter thanks to vaccines, adding that it is not yet clear if they prevent onward transmission of the virus or just stop individuals falling ill.

But he said: 'I think I can tell you that I'm very hopeful that, over time, vaccines will make a very important difference to how we have to live with Covid-19 in the long run.' 

Professor Van-Tam also pointed out that it's unclear if the vaccine will prevent people from passing the disease to others, or if it just protects people from falling ill. There's still a small chance people who are immunised can harbour Covid-19 without ever knowing and spread it to other people - which happens with young children who get the flu.  

All of your questions answered: MailOnline explains what comes next in the vaccine effort

How does the Government plan to distribute the vaccine?

About 1,200 GP surgeries are preparing to start dishing out a million Covid-19 jabs every week from December 1, so long as a vaccine sails through approval by then.  

Matt Hancock has promised the NHS will work around the clock to get the country vaccinated, with practices open between 8am and 8pm seven days a week and on Bank Holidays.

Anywhere that has space and access to large fridges is also an option. Sports halls, drive-through centres, pop-up facilities, football grounds, shopping centres, community facilities and libraries are all on the cards, as well as GP practices themselves. 

But the Health Secretary admitted it'll be a 'colossal' undertaking, with the army, as well as medical and nursing students, and retired medics, being drafted in to help.

GPs have warned they'll need all the extra staff they can get to juggle delivering the vaccines while trying to get non-Covid appointments back up and running. 

NHS bosses have told all of England's 1,250 GP networks to designate a single practice capable of administering at least 975 doses of the vaccine in their area each week — the equivalent of at least 1.22million nationwide. Surgeries will need to have fridge space available by December 1, according to documents. 

Pharmacists and dedicated clinics set up in places such as sports halls are also likely to be used. Patients will need to be observed for 15 minutes after the vaccination is administered and appointments can be managed through a national booking system, it was also revealed today. 

The Queen and rest of Royal Family WON'T be able to jump the queue for Covid vaccine, rich people will be banned from buying jab and even Boris will have to wait his turn 

The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family will not be able to jump the queue for a Covid-19 vaccine and even Boris Johnson will have to wait his turn, it was revealed today.

No one will be given 'special treatment' when the country launches its mass-immunisation drive next month, according to a senior Government source who has assured the public the jabs will only be obtainable through the NHSEven rich companies won't be able to skip the line.

Guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), published in September, said care home residents and their carers will be at the top of the pecking order. Those over 80 will be next in the queue, including the Queen at 94-years-old, followed by those over 75, over-70s, over-65s and high-risk adults under 65. 

According to the priority list, Prince Charles, 71, would be among the fourth group to get access, with the Prime Minister, at 56, placed ninth in the over-55s and Prince William, 38, in the last group, 11th in line for the jab. 

The Prince of Wales, Mr Johnson and the Duke of Cambridge have all had the virus, but scientists are still unsure on the truth on immunity due to Covid-19 having only been around since January - meaning its long-term effects are still unclear.

There have also been fears wealthy corporations would try to snap up vaccines directly from the manufacturer to get their staff back to work and make up for the money haemorrhaged during lockdown.  This raised concerns that it could limit the number of vaccines available to the British public. However, the Department of Health has assured people this will not happen.   

Who will be first in line to get the jab?

A priority list of which Brits should get a vaccine first was drawn up earlier this year by the influential Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and is now being used as the blueprint for the rollout. 

Care home residents and their carers, of which there are thought to be about 1.1million across Britain, are first on the priority list and are expected to be inoculated by the end of the year. 

After care homes, NHS staff and everyone over the age of 80 will be second in line soon after. They too could receive the jab before New Year if the distribution plans go to plan.

Those over 75 will be next in the queue, followed by over-70s, over-65s and high-risk adults under 65 with diseases such as cancer.They will be followed by moderate risk adults under 65 - including diabetics and asthmatics. 

Over-60s will be next, with over-55s and over-50s the final priority groups. It is hoped every vulnerable Brit will be protected by Easter, which has raised hopes of returning to normality by spring.

The general population will be last to get their hands on a jab and the JCVI says they will be prioritised based on age or underlying conditions.

Experts have said it is worth getting everyone vaccinated against coronavirus with Pfizer's jab should it be approved, even though early results suggest it doesn't trigger an immune response in one in ten people, because this will help to protect others and the most vulnerable from the virus. 

They added that in those where the vaccine is unlikely to stop them catching Covid-19 it could still make a severe infection less likely, helping to protect them from being hospitalised and stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. 

Minutes released in November on the JCVI's meetings spoke of problems with infection in the top care home setting on the list.  It stated: 'It was noted that outbreaks of acute respiratory infections in care home had been a feature of the epidemic from the beginning.

'Genomic evidence indicated multiple introductions into care homes. More recently care homes had accounted for a smaller proportion of incidents reported to Health Protection Teams (HPTs), with increases seen in educational settings, workplaces and other settings.' 

How will I know when I can get it?  

Invitations will be sent via letter and text message as each wave of people becomes eligible for vaccination – this will come from the central NHS or GP practices. 

Individuals will then be able to book an appointment either through a GP or a national booking service.

How will the vaccine be administered in the UK?

The UK Government has announced that it is expanding the group of people who will be able to administer vaccines, as well as potentially setting up walk-in or drive-in centres in public locations such as car parks outside GP surgeries.


Russia has today claimed its coronavirus vaccine is 92 per effective, which would make it better than the jab being developed by Pfizer.

Declaring early results just two days after the American pharmaceutical company, it said out of 20 infections recorded so far only two were in people who had received a Sputnik V — the name of the country's jab.

The country's Minister of Health, Mikhail Murashko, heralded the results as revealing Sputnik V's is an 'efficient solution to stop the spread of coronavirus'.

But scientists questioned the findings — which were sent out in a press release by a London-based PR agency, warning there is 'considerable uncertainty' because of the small number of infections in the trial.

They also accused state officials of 'mirroring' the results of Pfizer, and one even said based on these early numbers the Covid-19 vaccine may actually only be 60 per cent effective.

Pfizer revealed on Monday that its experimental jab is 90 per cent effective, with the news sparking hope of an end to the pandemic. Britain has already bought 40million doses of the pharmaceutical giant's vaccine.Physios and paramedics will be trained to deliver Covid-19 jabs to help the NHS carry out its mass vaccination programme through the winter. Retired doctors and medical students will also be drafted in.

Currently, only doctors, pharmacists and some nurses are legally allowed to administer vaccines in the UK.

But new laws passed in October grant more health workers - including midwives and even medical students - to be able to inoculate members of the public.

They are currently being put through 'robust training' according to the Government, which it says will 'save thousands of lives by increasing access to vaccines against killer disease'. 

It comes after GPs said they will need support to deliver the vaccination programme as health bosses acknowledged some other family doctor services may need to be scaled back.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said existing pressures meant family doctors would need help from colleagues to manage the operation, which is set to be rolled out from December 1.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday it was right that GPs were at the heart of vaccination but added: 'We can't do everything with the current resources. The issue here is mostly about the staff.

'We can't do the usual things that we do in general practice – looking after acutely ill patients, dealing with people who might have cancer, dealing with people who have long-term conditions, continuing to deliver immunisation, other immunisation programmes – at the same time as delivering the vaccine without having extra staff.'

Asked if this meant GPs would not be able to help patients without extra resources, Prof Marshall said: 'Let me clarify, we're saying that we have to continue to look after patients who have the health problems that I have described, that is absolutely essential.

'General practice can't shut up shop, because we're such an important part of the NHS. The question is, how do we get the staff in to allow us to continue to do those things.'

Are there logistical problems with buying so much vaccine?

Experts have raised concerns that storing the vaccine in Britain might be difficult.


Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine could cost Britain £588million and wind up being seven times more expensive per dose than the one being developed by Oxford University.

The jab, which the company this week claimed is 90 per cent effective and could be approved by regulators within weeks, is likely to cost at least £15 per dose and must be stored in specially designed ice packs that can cost approximately £5,000 each.

A vaccine being produced by Oxford, however, may cost as little as £2.23 per dose after the university and manufacturer AstraZeneca agreed not to profit from it.

Trial results from Oxford have not yet been released but early findings are expected next week, after the first stage of studies found it did trigger the immune system — suggesting it will prevent illness.

One of the two is likely to become the first coronavirus vaccine to be rolled out in Britain, with the NHS now gearing up to be ready to start delivering a jab from the start of December.

Each will require two doses spaced three or four weeks apart, meaning the cost of vaccinating one person could range from just £4.50 to £30.

While 40million doses of Pfizer's have been ordered, at a potential cost of £588.4m, the 100m doses of Oxford's could come in at a significantly lower £223m. 

Ministers, who have already spent billions of pounds on protecting the NHS, paying furlough bills and testing people for coronavirus, will no doubt be hoping the cheapest option comes good first.

The world is now hurtling towards the position where getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is a real possibility and the UK Government today launched a campaign to inspire public confidence in the safety of the jab in hopes that millions will get it.Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine has to be stored at temperatures below -70°C (-90°F) to make sure that it remains stable and can still work when injected.

If they rise to temperatures higher than this at any point between the lab and wherever they are administered from they could become chemically unstable and fail to work properly. 

To combat the issue, the American drug maker has designed a special suitcase-sized box to help deliver the vaccines.

But according to leaked Pfizer documents, the suitcases containing the doses can only be opened for a minute at time and not more than twice a day, the Times reports, making it difficult to supply the doses to patients. 

The Government's track record in handling logistical issues through the pandemic will not instill confidence that the mass-rollout of the new vaccine will run without any hiccups. For example, the centralised testing programme has been hit by a catalogue of failures since the pandemic began and the contact tracing mobile app was delayed by four months. 

One senior Tory warned that the government faces catastrophic public backlash if it makes a mess of the vaccine rollout. 'If we get this wrong, we're toast,' they told MailOnline. The MP said the Prime Minister should hand the reins to a senior military figure, who should also be the public face of the distribution effort.

They said: 'If we hadn't had the military involved someone would still be drawing up outline planning for the Nightingale hospitals. They can set up wards in theatres of war. The military are trusted. They have no axe to grind and they have authority. They are impartial servants of Crown and country.' 

How does Pfizer's vaccine work? 

The jab is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, which uses genetic code from the virus to provoke the immune system.  

Traditional vaccines tend to use damaged or destroyed versions of the real virus to achieve the same effect - if this one works, it will be the first mRNA jab ever to be proven in humans. 

The vaccine is made of lab-generated genetic material which is created to imitate what scientists have found inside the coronavirus. 

The genetic material (mRNA) is then injected into the body inside a fatty molecule. 

The genes are specifically chosen to code for the 'spike' protein on the outside of the coronavirus, which are what the virus uses to bind to human cells and infect them.

When the molecules get into the body, they deliver the mRNA into living cells and trick the body into making its own copies of the spike protein.

When these appear in the bloodstream they trigger the immune system in the same way that the real virus would, although the effects are milder because there are no actual viruses driving the infections, so the situation is under the body's control.

In the process, the immune system learns how to recognise and destroy the spikes so that when it encounters them for real it can kill the virus before it causes Covid-19.

Is it safe?

Pfizer and BioNTech say they have not encountered any safety issues during their trials so far, which have been going on for six months.

This suggests with a good degree of confidence that the vaccine is safe for humans at least in the short term. 

Long-term safety can only be proven when huge numbers of people have had the vaccine and had their health tracked for years or even decades afterwards, so scientists cannot yet be 100 per cent sure that no side effects will ever appear.

However, the current phase three trial includes more than 43,000 people from different backgrounds all over the world, all of whom are being closely monitored after having the vaccine.

If people suffer side effects of the vaccine that are more common or more severe than in the placebo group - who received a fake vaccine for comparison - this will be investigated in detail by the researchers.

Pfizer and BioNTech will not be given permission to distribute the jab without showing independent regulators that they have concrete data to prove the jab is as safe as possible. 

Regulators will not accept a licensing submission until at least half the people in the trial have been vaccinated for at least two months. That data is expected in a fortnight. Only then will the true safety profile be known. 

Does it take long for a vaccine to work?

Vaccines do not make people immune to disease immediately and it may take a month or more for individuals to develop resistance to the virus.

In the trial of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, people received two doses of the jab given 21 days apart.

The vaccine will not work properly with a single dose, so people can't be considered protected during the first three weeks after they have that.

And then, for the trial purposes, scientists started counting Covid-19 cases only from seven days after the second dose.

This suggests they do not expect the jab to be effective within the first 28 days of starting the vaccination process, or within seven days of the second dose - whichever comes last.

People must continue, therefore, to maintain social distancing and follow any lockdown rules for at least a month after getting vaccinated.  

For a vaccine to work on a large scale it will require huge numbers of people to get vaccinated, but it is likely that a working one would allow rules to be relaxed gradually.

If officials successfully vaccinate all elderly people and those with conditions that make them likely to die if they catch Covid-19, for example, social distancing rules may be able to be relaxed before a herd immunity threshold is reached. 

Herd immunity – in which so many people are vaccinated that the virus can't spread any more – could require up to 80 per cent of the population to have the jab. This will take many months to achieve but normal life may return earlier.

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