Professor Jonathan Van-Tam says he has told his 78-year-old mother she must have the Covid-19 vaccine.
The deputy chief medical officer, who said his mother calls him “Jonny”, said he is “very confident” in the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which has approved the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech.
The UK became the first country in the world to give the go-ahead to the vaccine, and it is expected to arrive in the UK within hours, paving the way for vaccinations to start next week.
Answering questions from the public on the BBC, Prof Van-Tam was asked how he would reassure care home residents and their families about the safety of the vaccine.
He said: “Look, I completely understand the anxieties, so I think what I would do is tackle this in three ways.
“Number one, to tell you, plain and straight, that I genuinely have said to my 78-year-old mum, who’s probably listening now: ‘Mum, you must have this vaccine, or any of the vaccines that the MHRA approves as soon as they are available. This is really important, because you are so at risk’.
“So that’s a kind of personal piece, if you like. I’m very confident in the assessments the MHRA makes.”
Prof Van-Tam warned that, even after people are vaccinated, they will not be able to return to normal life immediately.
“Until we are properly confident of how the vaccine works and properly confident that disease levels are dropping, even if you have had the vaccine, you are going to need to continue to follow all the rules that apply for a while longer,” he told the BBC.
“It is not something we are going to leave people waiting on for ever but we have got to follow the science, we have got to see the data that gives us the assurance that we can tell people that they can relax in certain ways and have a fairly high degree of confidence that it is safe to do so.
“It is a new disease, it is a new vaccination programme. We have to take it step by step and see carefully what is going to be unlocked for us. What can be unlocked will be unlocked but we have to take it really carefully in the first instance.”
He said it is yet to be decided whether people will be issued with vaccination certificates once they have received the jab.
“I don’t think thinking is fully complete or evolved to a point where I can give you any firm information on that,” he said.
“What I can say is that there is an absolute intent to make sure that the IT that supports the vaccination programme makes sure we have a very clear handle on who’s getting it and when they are getting it.”
Prof Van-Tam was asked if, in the long-term, every adult in the UK should have the vaccine.
He replied: “Right now, that is not as far as the thinking has gone.
“I would not rule that in or rule that out at this point.
“What JCVI have done is they’ve laid out what they see as the priority for a phase one programme.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, has recommended care home residents and staff should be the top priority.
Prof Van-Tam said none of the trials deliberately included pregnant women, but there were women who volunteered for the trial who then became pregnant.
He said the manufacturers will follow these women and their babies in their early years, adding: “So, from that perspective, this is covered. But, right now, do we have the data in pregnant women to understand the use of any of these vaccines in pregnant women? No, we don’t.
“Does the JCVI suggest that pregnant women should be vaccinated? No, it does not, and that isn’t a sign that the JCVI, or me, have seen some terrible problem.
“It’s a definite sign that we don’t have the data at this point and therefore, safety first, always being cautious, even though there may well be no problem at all.
“Nevertheless, always safety first.”
Prof Van-Tam gave assurances that Santa Claus will be at the front of the queue to get the vaccine, telling the BBC: “Oh, absolutely. The JCVI made a very special case for Father Christmas and he is going to be absolutely at the top of our list.”
He also appeared on ITV’s This Morning and was asked by presenter Phillip Schofield what he would say to conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and people who believe “it’s got something to do with Bill Gates”.
Schofield said: “All of these things that you look at and think it’s so extraordinary that people would believe this nonsense, but what do you say as a scientist?”
Prof Van-Tam replied: “You’re right, Phillip. It’s extraordinary nonsense and I don’t give it any credence, and I don’t give it any airtime.”