Jonathan Van-Tam's best analogies: Penalties, equalisers & yoghurts

By Becky Morton
BBC News

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Media caption,
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam's football analogy: "The away team gave us an absolute battering"

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam's colourful metaphors have turned the government adviser into something of a household name.

England's deputy chief medical officer has become a regular feature at Downing Street's coronavirus briefings, with many praising how he explains scientific concepts in layman's terms.

"I love metaphors. I think they bring complex stories to life for people. It's great," he told the BBC.

In his latest analogy he has compared the current stage of the pandemic to scoring an equaliser in the 70th minute of a football game.

During an appearance on the BBC News Channel and Radio 5 Live, where he answered questions from members of the public, he said: "It's clear in the first half, the away team gave us an absolute battering, and what we've done now is it's the 70th minute, they got a goal, and in the 70th minute we've now got an equaliser.

"Okay, we've got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it.

"But the key thing is not to lose it, not to throw it away at this point because we've got a point on the board, and we've got the draw."

He explained that despite the progress on a coronavirus vaccine, the country still had "some hard winter months" ahead "where people must continue to follow the guidance".

"What I'm saying is that we need more vaccines, but we also need people to realise that these are not an instant ticket out of anywhere at the moment," he said.

He added that the future was "hopefully much brighter" but "you may have to be patient until maybe late spring on this one".

Media caption,
Prof Van-Tam said if he could, he would be at the front of the line to be the first to get a Covid vaccine

During the interview, he also spoke about his family, revealing his mother calls him "Jonny".

He used the example of his mum to reinforce that he was confident in the safety of the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for widespread use in the UK.

"I genuinely have said to my 78-year-old mum, who's probably listening now - 'Mum, you must have this vaccine, or any of the vaccines that the MHRA [the UK's medicines regulator] approves as soon as they are available. This is really important, because you are so at risk'," he said.

'It's gone to penalties'

His imaginative metaphors have not gone unnoticed, with many praising his relatable and straight-talking style on social media.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Football analogies have emerged as a common theme for the deputy chief medical officer, who is a Boston United season ticket holder.

Last month he compared the positive results from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials to scoring in a penalty shoot-out.

"So this is like… getting to the end of the play-off final, it's gone to penalties, the first player goes up and scores a goal," he told a Downing Street press conference.

"You haven't won the cup yet, but what it does is, it tells you that the goalkeeper can be beaten."

'The train has slowed down'

He has also used the analogy of waiting for a train to describe the process of a vaccine being developed.

Welcoming the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, he said: "The train has now slowed down safely. It has now stopped in the station. And the doors have opened - that was the authorisation by the MHRA.

"What we need now is for people to get on that train and travel safely to their destinations."

But he also warned that the vaccine, which needs to be stored at around -70C, would be "tricky" to handle and roll out - comparing it to a yoghurt.

"This is a complex product," he said.

"It's not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times."