Ex-UK deputy medical officer Van-Tam takes role at Moderna

Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam

Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, one of the key faces in the UK government's COVID-19 response, has taken a job as a senior medical consultant at vaccine developer Moderna.

The former deputy chief medical officer became a household name during the pandemic, due to his frequent appearance in televised press briefings, and was frequently praised for his calm and eloquent communication skills. He became known as 'JVT' and was given a knighthood in last year's New Year's Honours list for services to public health.

He was a prominent member of the COVID-19 vaccines taskforce, which was involved in deciding vaccine supply contracts, as well as investments in manufacturing and clinical research, and left his government role in March 2022.

The government has fostered close links with Moderna since the pandemic, agreeing a 10-year vaccines alliance with the biotech last December, centred around the construction of a new vaccines manufacturing centre in Oxfordshire and a commitment to run clinical trials in the UK.

The UK bought 77 million Moderna vaccines for its COVID-19 immunisation programme, along with 100 million from AstraZeneca and 94 million from Pfizer/BioNTech. 

The appointment to Moderna took place in May and was revealed in official filings, according to the Financial Times, which said the appointment follows controversy over previous "revolving door" moves between government and industry.

The paper notes that nearly a third of all new jobs taken by former ministers and senior officials overlapped their previous brief in public office, citing a report published earlier this year by Transparency International UK.

There is no suggestion that Prof Sir Van-Tam has contravened any regulations or codes, but the appointment may reignite debate about senior government figures taking roles in the private sector, in the wake of high-profile cases such as former prime minister David Cameron lobbying government on behalf of Greensill Capital, and former chancellor Sajid Javid moving to financial giant JPMorgan.

Transparency International has called for the replacement of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), which currently regulates moves between the public and private sector with a new independent body that has a remit enshrined in law.

The FT notes that Prof Sir Van-Tam is not allowed to lobby the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) or ancillary agencies, and cannot be involved in any bids for contracts until March 2024.