The professor also used an example of a train journey to explain where the UK is with a vaccine, going to great metaphorical lengths to play down the hope and excitement.
He deployed the football analogy to explain that it was not yet known how the Pfizer vaccine would affect transmission of the virus.
“It’s the Play-Off Final and it’s gone to penalties. We’ve stepped up and scored the first one. It doesn’t mean we’ve won the cup, but it shows the keeper can be beaten. That’s basically where we’re at in the fight against coronavirus“, he said.
Asked again about suggestions the vaccine could lead to a return to normal next spring, Prof Van-Tam refused to be derailed – using a train analogy.
He said: “This to me is like a train journey, it’s wet, it’s windy, it’s horrible. And two miles down the tracks two lights appear and it’s the train and it’s a long way off and we’re at that point at the moment. That’s the efficacy result.
“Then we hope the train slows down safely to get into the station, that’s the safety data, and then the train stops.
“And at that point the doors don’t open, the guard has to make sure it’s safe to open the doors. That’s the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency], that’s the regulator.
“And when the doors open, I hope there’s not an unholy scramble for the seats. The JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] has very clearly said which people need the sets most and they are the ones who should get on the train first.”
Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted that the press conference was “impressive”.
“Impressive press conference this morning from Professor Jonathan van Tam”, he said.
“Very strong comments on access of the vaccine for all. And with appropriate levels of caution around the data.”
Meanwhile, another Twitter user, Andrew White, who works for the NHS, called the performance “masterful”.
Absolutely masterful explanation about vaccine development and deployment with the train metaphor by Prof Van Tam!”, he said.
Adding: “Quite brilliant!”
Prof Van-Tam also told the press conference that he had encouraged his 78-year-old mother to be ready to take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible.
Asked whether high-profile Government figures such as himself or the Prime Minister should take a vaccine first to prove to the public it was safe, Prof Van-Tam told a Downing Street briefing he would be “at the front of the queue” if he was allowed.
He said he was a 56-year-old with one medium-to-high risk condition, so there were people with greater priority.
“If I could, rightly and morally, be at the very front of the queue, then I would do so, because I absolutely trust the judgment of the MHRA on safety and efficacy,” he said.
“But that clearly isn’t right, we have to target the most highest risk individuals in society and that is how it should be in terms of our system.
“If I could be at the front of the queue, then I would be.
“I think the ‘mum test’ is very important here. My mum is 78, she will be 79 shortly, and I have already said to her, ‘mum, make sure when you are called you are ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age’.”