Professor Jonathan Van-Tam urges public to take vaccine if they want to see normal life to return

Published: 3 December 2020

Post Desk : The public should take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is offered to them if they want to see an end to social distancing, one of the government’s top medical officers has said.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, told a Downing Street news conference that while people were “fed up” with ongoing coronavirus measures, “low uptake” of jabs designed to protect them will “almost certainly make restrictions last longer”.

His comments came after the UK became the first country to approve use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – rollout begins next week after it was signed off by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Prof Van-Tam admitted during the briefing that he became “emotional” when he heard of the independent regulator’s decision on Wednesday morning, however he also came to his podium equipped with a few blunt quips to temper expectations that the pandemic could soon be over.

He said: “Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t.

“I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.”
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That quasi-prediction did not appear to go down well with the prime minister to his left, who said: “And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.”

Prof Van-Tam later acknowledged that Boris Johnson had “picked me up on this occasion”, saying: “It’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here.

“I do not think that the government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day. I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.”

But for the world to reach that point, he said people would have to embrace the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do,” he said.

“But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you. Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.”

His plea was notable given a YouGov poll published earlier found that one in five Britons lacked confidence that the newly-approved vaccine was safe.

A snapshot survey found that 27% said they are very confident the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and 43% are fairly confident it is safe, but 11% are not very confident and 9% are not confident at all.

Prof Van-Tam also returned to a long-running train analogy, saying that it had pulled into the station and was ready to start accepting passengers to take them to their destination – being given the jab.

However, he did urge further caution, adding that people should continue to be patient and follow social distancing guidelines until told otherwise.

He said: “We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take – it is going to take months, not weeks. And this vaccine has then got to work in a headwind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.”

Prof Van-Tam also said he believed the virus would be “with humankind forever” and that it may never be eradicated, albeit living on as a seasonal disease like flu, rather than an all-encompassing pandemic.