Jonathan Van-Tam heads the fab four to steer news on AstraZeneca 'course correction'

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Scientists 'JVT', Lim, Pirmohamed and Raine give the government a lesson in clear communication
When the news is difficult and the science complicated but the desired message is crucial, who better to deliver it than "JVT", headlining a panel of four top experts in their field?

The government's choice of Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, whose metaphors and analogies are legendary, can only have reaffirmed his cult status as the most trusted face of the Covid-19 pandemic in Britain.

Wednesday's televised briefing, where experts would have to concede a possible – though not established beyond doubt – causal link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and extremely rare CVST blood clots, was always going to be a challenge.

But JVT was at the helm, this time ably assisted by the less well known Dr June Raine, chief executive of the medical regulator, MHRA, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation, and Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines.

"Profs JVT, Raine, Lim, Pirmohamed giving us a lesson in science communication," tweeted one lecturer in pharmacology.

JVT embarked on the nautical theme of "course correction". Armed with clear charts mapped out by Cambridge University's Winton Centre for risk and evidence communication, he steered a calm passage through the statistics and evaluations.

"If you sail a massive liner across the Atlantic, then it's not really reasonable that you aren't going to have to make at least one course correction during that voyage," he said of the decision to offer people under 30 alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine. "We will get the right vaccine to you … The NHS is all over this," he reassured his audience.

"Clear, concise. Top charting use by JVT," enthused one Twitter user. "Got a confusing communications strategy? Send in JVT, the Mr Wolf of messaging," said another.

Raine, an opera-loving Oxford University alumnus, was not well known before Covid-19. She has been at the MHRA since 2003. Those who have worked with her…
Caroline Davies
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