In the ongoing inquiry into the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have shed light on their roles as co-chairs of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). While it has been clarified that Vallance chaired the meetings, both Whitty and Vallance were officially co-chairs of the group. This unique arrangement allowed for a dynamic collaboration that leveraged their respective expertise and perspectives.
Whitty explained that once SAGE had agreed upon a position, both he and Vallance saw it as their responsibility to express the collective view of SAGE, rather than their personal opinions. This approach aimed to ensure a unified and consistent message to the government and the public.
Despite rumors of tension between Whitty and Vallance, Whitty dismissed these claims as insignificant. Jeremy Farrar, a colleague and friend, had mentioned in his book that there were minor differences between the two co-chairs. However, Whitty emphasized the importance of not exaggerating these differences, labeling them as the “narcissism of small differences.”
Reflecting on their decision-making process, Whitty acknowledged that he tended to be more cautious and inclined to thoroughly evaluate the potential disadvantages of measures before implementing them. However, he also recognized that timing was crucial, and in hindsight, he believed that some measures could have been introduced earlier during the first wave of the pandemic.
During the inquiry, Whitty also addressed the precautionary principle, emphasizing that it was essential to consider the downsides of any action. He drew a parallel to the role of doctors, who must weigh the potential risks and benefits when advising patients on medical interventions.
Throughout the inquiry, the focus on collaboration and consensus-building within SAGE has become apparent. Whitty highlighted the importance of establishing common positions through the Sage process and resolving any differences between him and Vallance before providing advice to the government.
In conclusion, the relationship between Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance as co-chairs of SAGE was characterized by collaboration, mutual respect, and a commitment to presenting a unified position that leveraged their individual expertise. This inquiry has provided valuable insights into the decision-making process during the pandemic and the complex dynamics within advisory groups.