Planes, trains and football games: Jonathan Van-Tam’s best analogies

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Prof Jonathan Van-Tam’s colourful metaphors were often a highlight of the Downing Street coronavirus briefings, turning him into something of a household name, and winning praise for the way they translated scientific concepts into laypeople’s language.

A Boston United season ticket holder, he often turned to sport – and football in particular – in his choice of analogies. Here are some of his most famous Van-Tam-isms.

On the development of the Pfizer vaccine, Downing Street coronavirus briefing, November 2020

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

On plans for the vaccine rollout, Downing Street press briefing, November 2020

I do believe that we are now on the glide path to landing this plane. Yes I do. Do I accept that sometimes when you are on the glide path, you can have a side wind and the landing is not totally straightforward, totally textbook? Of course I do.

On MHRA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, Downing Street press briefing, December 2020

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.

On the vaccine rollout, BBC News channel, December 2020

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. OK, we’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it.

On storing the Pfizer vaccine, Downing Street press briefing, December 2020

This is a complex product. It’s not yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times.

On the need for booster jabs, Downing Street press briefing, November 2021

Omicron is like now picking up a couple of yellow cards to key players on top. We are maybe OK, but we’re kind of starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players, and if that happens – or it’s a risk that’s going to happen – then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime. We’re not going to wait for the red card to happen, we are going to act decisively now …”

On the vaccine effects, in the Sun, January 2021

We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it.