Sir Jonathan Van-Tam has been appointed senior medical advisor at Covid, a vaccine manufacturer.
According to official filings, the UK’s former deputy Chief Medical Officer, who became a celebrity among British citizens during the pandemic, and was affectionately called “JVT”, began working as a part-time advisor to Moderna, in May.
Van-Tam served as a member on the Vaccine Taskforce during the pandemic. The government stated that the Taskforce made decisions about “all vaccine contracts and major investment in manufacturing and clinical possibilities”. In March 2022, he resigned from his role as a government official.
Van-Tam was praised for using sports analogies to illustrate the various stages of a pandemic. Van-Tam said that the vaccine rollout will take place in December 2020. He stated: “It is clear from the first half of the game, the other team has given us a beating. . . We’ve got an equaliser in the 70th minute. We’ve got hold our nerve, and see if we get another goal to nick it.
Van-Tam’s move comes after controversy surrounding previous “revolving doors” between government and business.
Sajid Javid, the former UK chancellor, was criticized for taking a lucrative job at JPMorgan in 2020. The scandal that erupted in the following year was the revelation that the former UK prime minister David Cameron had lobbied government members on behalf of Greensill Capital.
According to a study conducted by Transparency International, a civil society organization, nearly a third (33%) of the new jobs held by former ministers or senior officials overlapped significantly with their previous responsibilities.
Rose Whiffen, senior researcher at Transparency International UK said that the government should prohibit former senior civil servants and Ministers from taking positions in which they had significant responsibility for policies relevant to the hiring firm.
She said that there were only “thin safeguards” against the abuse of the revolving doors between the public sector and the private sector. This created “risks of privileged data being misused to commercial advantage”.
Moderna stated that the appointment was made in accordance with rules set by the Health Department for officials who accept jobs in the industry. Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Burton, stated that the professor’s expertise and “significant experience” as an influenza specialist will be “vital” for the company. The role of part-time consultant is not limited to the UK, but covers the entire global business.
In January 2021, the UK approved Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccination. The government bought 17mn Moderna doses, compared to 100mn doses for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and 40mn for the Pfizer vaccine. In late December, the government agreed to purchase another 60mn Modernadoses along with 54mn Pfizer doses to last until 2022 or 2023.
The government of the UK signed a 10 year partnership last year with a US pharmaceutical company in order to boost the research and development for mRNA vaccines. This included building a factory capable of producing up to 250mn mRNA vaccinations per year.
Mani Foroohar is an analyst with Leerink Partners. He said that Moderna has been “spending heavily” in hopes that the market for Covid-19 vaccinations will rebound. In many countries including the UK the vaccine market is largely driven through government sales.
He said that it was not uncommon for pharmaceutical companies to hire ex-regulators and government officials to improve their government relations in markets with little commercial component.
Van-Tam’s role at Moderna is restricted by the government. He is not permitted to lobby for the Department of Health and Social Care, its executive agencies, or to be involved in any bids related to the Health Ministry or its executive agency until March 2024.
Jordan Urban, researcher at the Institute for Government, says people shouldn’t be “overly worried” when government specialists move into the industry. He said that the bigger problem is that government rules are “without teeth” and people can disregard them without penalty.