More metaphors as vaccine approval process compared to ‘climbing a mountain’

By Tess de la Mare, PA
·3-min read

The head of the medicines regulator has compared the process of approving Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to “climbing a mountain” in a bid to reassure the public it is safe.

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the experts “prepare and prepare” before approving a vaccine.

In response to fears that the vaccine had seemingly been approved with astonishing speed, she said: “If I can think of an analogy, when you are climbing a mountain, you prepare and prepare – we started that in June.”

She continued: “By the time the interim results became available on November 10, we were at base camp.

“And then, when we got that final analysis we were ready for that last sprint that takes us to today.”

She added: “That is the exemplary nature of the work that has been done and the public deserve nothing less.”

Dr Raine said MHRA scientists had been working around the clock to ensure “not a minute is wasted” in the approval process once a vaccine had been found.

She is not the first scientist doing their best to put the vaccine development process into layman’s terms with the help of some handy metaphors.

On November 20, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, compared the progress on a vaccine to the tricky “glide path” of a plane coming into land.

He told a press briefing: “Do I believe that we are now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes I do.”

Prof Van-Tam added: “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.”

In the past, Prof Van-Tam has also drawn on football and the most anxiety-inducing word in the English language – “penalties” – to explain encouraging vaccine results.

The Boston United season ticket holder said on November 9: “So this is like… getting to the end of the playoff final, it’s gone to penalties, the first player goes up and scores a goal.

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

Perhaps realising winning a penalty shootout is not something the English have much experience of, he then turned to another national obsession – crowded trains.

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, that’s the regulator.”

Warming to the theme, he said: “And when the doors open, I hope there’s not an unholy scramble for the seats. The JCVI has very clearly said which people need the seats most and they are the ones who should get on the train first.”

Boris Johnson pulled out a military metaphor to describe the arrival of the vaccine, saying we can hear the “distant bugle of the scientific cavalry” after the Pfizer test results were announced last month.

But he reminded the public not to drop their guard by saying people should not see the development as “a home run, a slam dunk, a shot to the back of the net, yet”.