After a year in which science helped guide humanity through the darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the UK’s leading experts have been recognised in the new year honours list.
England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty, deputy CMO Jonathan Van-Tam, and the Welsh and Scottish CMOs Frank Atherton and Dr Gregor Smith, have all been given knighthoods for their work over the past two years.
There are also damehoods for UK Health Security Agency chief Dr Jenny Harries, and Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), after a year in which the threat of new variants arose and more than 130 million vaccinations were administered.
The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who was originally knighted in the 2019 new year honours, is elevated to a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
Scientists have played a central role in keeping the public informed during briefings throughout the year in response to Covid-19 and are being recognised for services to public health and science.
Sir Patrick said: “I am really pleased to see so many outstanding scientists and engineers recognised in this year’s honours, including those that have been working tirelessly as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
And the MHRA chief, Dame June, said: “I am enormously honoured by this recognition of the substantial contribution which the MHRA has made to the nation’s response to Covid-19 over the last two years.
“This is thanks to the dedication and commitment of all our talented staff, who work so tirelessly to make sure vaccines, therapeutics and medical devices are safe and effective for people across the UK.”
Dr Gregor Smith, the Scottish government’s chief medical adviser for the majority of the pandemic, said the role has been a “privilege and a pleasure” and that he was “surprised and honoured” after being made a Knight Bachelor.
The GP had been Scotland’s deputy chief medical officer from 2015 to April 2020, when he took over from predecessor Dr Catherine Calderwood after photos showing her breaking coronavirus travel rules to visit her second home resulted in her resignation.
In his role, Dr Smith has advised the Scottish government on its public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic and attended Covid-19 press briefings to answer questions from the media, like his counterparts in England and Wales.
The Cabinet Office said nearly one in five (19 per cent) of the honours are for Covid-related service.