England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Van Tam, stresses that “standards are no lower just because this is a public health emergency”
The deputy chief medical officer for England, Professor Van Tam, has said that he will be encouraging his own mum to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved, as he assured the British public that safety standards would not be compromised in the face of the public health emergency.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, outlined how the regular development and approval phase for a potential COVID-19 vaccine had been accelerated due to the current health crisis.
This has included the overlapping of three phases of clinical trials with pharmaceutical firms beginning manufacture before final approval had been granted, leaving them open to the risk that their work would potentially have to be discarded.
This comes after, asked whether the new COVID-19 vaccine could be available by Christmas, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that was “absolutely a possibility”, but he expected that the mass roll-out occur “in the first part of next year”.
However, Prof Van Tam insisted that “standards are no lower just because this is a public health emergency”.
The chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Dr June Raine, has also pledged that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus would “only be approved once it has met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality”.
Dr Raine said that the MHRA had begun their work to assess the Pfizer vaccine, but said that they were yet to have received the full data from the clinical trial.
“Clearly we are in a state of readiness to start our rigorous reviews of safety and effectiveness the minute that reaches us,” she added.
Asked if he would be prepared to be among the first people to be vaccinated, Prof 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 judgement of the MHRA on safety and efficacy.”
“But that clearly isn’t right – we have to target most highest risk individuals in society and that is how it should be.”
“If I could be at the front of the queue, then I would be.”
“But let me say to you this, I think the ‘mum test’ is very important here.”
“My mum is 78, she’ll be 79 shortly, and I’ve already said to her ‘mum, make sure when you’re called you’re ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age’.”
New guidance will say that students in the UK will be allowed to travel home for Christmas between the 3rd and 9th of December to make sure families can be reunited. Universities in England should stop all in-person teaching and will be reverting to online-only classes by early December, allowing students to return safely home for Christmas, the government has now said.
“One of the things I like about the NHS is that it’s there for everybody, irrespective of their level of wealth or who they are in society,” he said.
“That’s a really important principle to me, personally.”
Prof Van Tam added that deciding such an issue would be “a ministerial decision” but added: “I am giving you my views as a clinician that I think these vaccines need to be prioritised to those who need them, not those who can afford to pay for them privately.”