When the news is difficult and the science is complicated, but the key is the desired message, who can deliver it better than “JVT”, the leader of a panel of four top experts in their field?
The government’s election of Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, whose metaphors and analogies are legendary, could only confirm his cult status as the most reliable person in the British Covid-19 pandemic.
A televised briefing on Wednesday, at which experts would have to acknowledge a possible – though not undoubtedly established – cause-and-effect link between the Oxford / AstraZenec vaccine and the extremely rare CVST blood clots, will always be a challenge.
But JVT was at the helm, this time skillfully assisted by the lesser known dr. June Raine, Executive Director of the Medical Regulator, MHRA, Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chairman of the Joint Vaccine and Immunization Committee, and prof. Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Chairman of the Commission for Human Medicines.
“Professors JVT, Raine, Lim, Pirmohamed are teaching us a lesson in scientific communication,” tweeted one pharmacology lecturer.
JVT started the nautical topic of “course correction”. Armed with clear maps mapped by Cambridge University’s Winton Center for Communication on Risks and Evidence, he led a calm passage through statistics and estimates.
“If you are sailing a massive boat across the Atlantic, then it is not really reasonable that you will not have to make at least one course adjustment during that voyage,” he said of the decision to offer people under the age of 30 an alternative to the AstraZeneci vaccine. “We’ll deliver you the right vaccine … the NHS is all this,” he assured his audience.
“It simply came to our notice then. Top rankings used by JVT “, delighted one Twitter user. “Do you have a confusing communication strategy?” Send JVT, Mr. Vuk, to exchange messages, “said another.
Raine, a student who loved operas from Oxford University, was not well known before Covid-19. She has been with the MHRA since 2003. Those who have worked with her describe a quiet, measured woman with a reputation for caution. Under her supervision, the MHRA became the first drug regulator to approve a Pfizer / BioNTech sting, giving it “emergency approval” before other countries.
It was she who announced the news on Wednesday that there was a “reasonably probable” link between AstraZeneca stings and extremely rare blood clots. She outlined a list of symptoms that should prompt the public for prompt medical advice: “new onset of severe or persistent headache or blurred vision, difficulty breathing, chest pain, swelling of the legs, persistent abdominal pain or really unusual skin bruises or spots outside the injection site ”.
Prof. Sir Munir Pirmohamed, a physician and pharmacologist awarded for Merit in Medicine in 2015, chairs the NHS for Pharmacogenetics at the University of Liverpool. His areas of research include drug safety, with a special focus on adverse drug reactions. He has written more than 420 peer-reviewed publications.
Prof. Wei Shen Lim is a respiratory disease advisor and honorary professor of medicine at NHS hospital hospitals at the University of Nottingham, whose research interests include community-acquired pneumonia and influenza. He stressed that the preference for the use of other vaccines over AstraZenec for people under the age of 30 was “out of extreme caution” and not out of “any serious safety concerns”.
The comment attracted less his expertise than his hair, especially one stubborn lock of hair. “You know you can trust Wei Shen Lim because he talks about going to national television with a massive cow’s arm sticking out from the side of his head,” one Twitter user said. Another commented, “The best hairstyle in public life.”
At the center of the stage were simple but effective slides, giving risk assessments for each age group. It was a complex task, a method behind which is set out on the Winton Center website. “We hope that these illustrations will help make these complexities a little clearer,” the authors said. No one will hope for that more than the government.