The PM’s certainty was perhaps undermined by his expert’s assessments
Analysis by Tom Rayner, political correspondent
Downing Street press conferences, where so much about the future was in doubt,
Boris Johnson set out to deliver a message underpinned by certainty.
This evening there
was no need for graphs, terrifying projections or colour-coded maps.
He said he was now “certain” the arrival of a clinically approved vaccine meant there was a way
out of the pandemic, but he was equally sure “the struggle isn’t over” and that
the “plan does depend on all of us continuing to make sacrifices”.
attempts by Boris Johnson to capture the moment with martial art metaphors, it
was deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam who seemed to capture
those dual-certainties with greater impact and eloquence.
He said he was “quite emotional” about the news this morning and reassured the public they
were right to feel that way too.
“Everyone needs to
be delighted with the news today,” he said, “but equally patient and realistic.”
And the reason for
the need for patience was laid out over the course of the
The key example was the acknowledgement that despite care home staff and
residents being considered the most vulnerable category, the Pfizer vaccine
will not be easy to get to them.
Cases of the
vaccine contain 975 doses, and those consignments cannot be separated down into
Those cases would
be too large for most individual homes, so it will require the medical
regulator to change its permissions for this particular vaccine or the approval
of the less logistically demanding Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, for doses to be
quickly rolled out.
Even if this
particular challenge were to be overcome, head of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens
made the point that even the most vulnerable are unlikely to get the required
second dose until the New Year, so the need for social distancing and other
restrictions will still be required for some time to come.
Van-Tam suggested he did not believe COVID-19 would ever be entirely eradicated
and was likely to become seasonal like flu.
“Do I think we will be
able to throw a big party like the end of the war? No I don’t,” adding that he
thinks some of the habits of handwashing and keeping some distance could be
That seemed to
alarm the prime minister, who perhaps saw it as undermining the message of
certainty that normality would return.
It was a revealing
moment, because it seemed to give a sense of Boris Johnson’s personal metric
So much so the
deputy chief medical officer felt the need to clarify he was talking about habits,
rather than an enduring need for government restrictions.
“Well, who knows,
who knows?” said the prime minister, uncertainly.
— to news.sky.com