Theresa Tam

Theresa Tam
Theresa Tam, Promoting Vaccine Confidence.jpg
Tam speaking at a 2019 World Health Assembly event in Geneva
3rd Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
Assumed office
June 26, 2017
Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau
MinisterJane Philpott
Patty Hajdu
Preceded byGregory W. Taylor
Personal details
Born1965 (age 56–57)
British Hong Kong
Alma materUniversity of Nottingham (MBBS)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese譚詠詩
Simplified Chinese谭咏诗

Theresa Tam FRCPC (Chinese: 譚詠詩; born 1965) is a Canadian physician and public servant who currently serves as the chief public health officer of Canada, who is the second-in-command of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).[1] Tam initially took the role as acting CPHO following the retirement of her predecessor,[2] Gregory Taylor, on 16 December 2016.[3] She was formally appointed on 26 June 2017.[2]

Tam has played a leadership role in Canada's response to public health emergencies, including SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola,[4][5] and COVID-19. She has also worked towards eradicating polio.[5]

Early life and education

Tam was born in British Hong Kong and grew up in the United Kingdom.[6] She attended medical school at the University of Nottingham, earning an MBBS 1989. In 1996, She completed her pediatric residency at the University of Alberta, and in 1997, a pediatric infectious diseases fellowship at University of British Columbia.[5][7][8]

Since 1996, Tam has been a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.[5]


Tam, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, was "assistant deputy minister of (the) infectious disease prevention and control" branch (sic) at PHAC.[9]

In 2003, Tam was the chief of Health Canada’s immunization and respiratory infections division during the SARS outbreak.[5]

Tam was a co-chair of a 2006 federal report on pandemic preparedness in the wake of the SARS outbreak in Canada,[10] which envisioned a respiratory infection pandemic that was described in The Globe and Mail as foreshadowing the COVID-19 pandemic "with eerie accuracy."[11] At that time in 2006, she was Director of the Immunization and Respiratory Infections Division at the PHAC.[10]

Tam said the opioid crisis, which cost over 2,500 lives in Canada in 2016, could be higher than 3,000 in 2017 if the current trend continues. "This far surpasses the number of motor-vehicle fatalities." She said overprescription of opioids contributed to this trend.[12]

Tam is on the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Health Emergencies Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO), a role she took up between April and June 2018.[13]

In 2019, Tam criticized people who refuse vaccines, saying "They’re a small number, but they’re spreading misinformation." "And they’re communicating their opinions in a very emotional way."[5]

Tam is an official advisor to the WHO's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on 2019-nCoV.[14]

COVID-19 pandemic

On 7 January 2020, when it appeared that there was a health crisis emerging in Wuhan, Tam advised Canadians: “There has been no evidence to date that this illness, whatever it’s caused by, is spread easily from person to person; no health care workers caring for the patients have become ill; a positive sign.”[15]

At the end of January 2020, Tam said "no reason to be overly concerned" about COVID-19. On 23 January, Tam was a member of the WHO committee that broadcast that it was too early to declare a public health emergency of international concern. On 26 January, Tam stated "There is no clear evidence that this virus is spread easily from person to person. The risk to Canadians remains low."[16] On 27 January, Canada confirmed its first case of COVID-19.[17] On 29 January, she told Canadians that "Canada's risk is much, much lower than that of many countries. It’s going to be rare, but we are expecting cases. … We are preparing the whole country in the event that you might pick up a rare case."[18]

In February, cases in Canada grew from 4 to 20. During this time, Tam authorized the release of Canadians who had been quarantined for 14 days after their repatriation from Wuhan and several cruise ships.[19]

March saw an explosion of cases in Korea, Europe, and then the United States and Canada. The WHO declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. On 23 March, Tam began appearing in public service announcements urging for personal hygiene and social distancing, and against unnecessary travel. These announcements have continued to be aired throughout 2020.[20]

Tam initially recommended the general public against wearing masks for two reasons: (i) to protect healthcare workers and prioritize supply; and (ii) "potential negative aspects" of wearing masks, stating "it can sometimes make it worse if the person puts their finger in their eye or touches their face under their mask" and that it can give a false sense of security.[21][22] On 6 April, Tam changed her recommendation to "wearing a non-medical mask, even if you have no symptoms, is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you in situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain" because of new data about pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission.[22]

On 23 April, Tam was appointed by Justin Trudeau to a new advisory body, the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, whose mandate he declared to be the coordination of serological surveys across the country.[23]

On 20 May, Tam strengthened her earlier mask recommendation stating "where COVID-19 activity is occurring, use of non-medical masks or face coverings is recommended as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is difficult to maintain".[24]

On 3 November, Tam recommended adding a filter layer to masks to provide more protection against COVID-19.[25]

In March 2021, an Auditor General's report described how Tam and the Public Health Agency of Canada failed to fully comprehend the threat posed by COVID-19 to Canadians. In particular, it was noted that the Agency waited until the day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, at which point the risk level was raised from its previous position of "low".[26]


  1. ^ "Public Health Agency of Canada Human Resources Delegation Instrument" (PDF). Health Canada. 1 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b Jun 26, Beatrice Britneff Published on; 2017 2:05pm (2017-06-26). "Politicos on the move: Feds appoint new chief public health officer". iPolitics. Archived from the original on 2020-07-29. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  3. ^ "Dr. Gregory Taylor retires: Country's top doctor gives final word to Canadians about their health". Global News. Archived from the original on 2020-04-11. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  4. ^ "Dr Theresa Tam, BMBS (UK), FRCPC: Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 24 November 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Hawthorn, Tom (2020-06-24). "Theresa Tam". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  6. ^ McBride, Jason (23 August 2019), "The Canadian Leading The Fight Against Vaccine Skeptics", Chatelaine, archived from the original on 27 January 2020, retrieved 23 March 2020
  7. ^ "Chief Public Health Officer of Canada – Biography". Government of Canada. 20 March 2019. Archived from the original on 23 March 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  8. ^ "WHO | Dr Theresa Tam, BMBS (UK), FRCPC". WHO. Archived from the original on 2020-06-02. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  9. ^ Canadian Press (26 June 2017), "Top doctor: Theresa Tam appointed to head Public Health Agency of Canada", The Globe and Mail, archived from the original on 29 June 2017
  10. ^ a b Theresa Tam; Karen Grimsrud. "The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector" (PDF). Longwoods Publishing Corporation. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  11. ^ Tomlinson, Kathy; Grant, Robertson (April 9, 2020). "Ottawa had a playbook for a coronavirus-like pandemic 14 years ago. What went wrong?". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 16 April 2020. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  12. ^ Tumility, Ryan (28 June 2017), "Government allows unapproved drugs into Canada to combat opioid crisis", Metro News, archived from the original on 14 March 2018
  13. ^ "Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Tam not listed on the archive link, but is on the current.
  14. ^ "List of proposed members and advisers to International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia due to the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV". WHO. 23 January 2020. Archived from the original on 30 April 2020. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  15. ^ Favaro, Avis. "Canadian health authority warns travellers over mysterious illness sickening dozens in China". CTV News. Archived from the original on 2020-08-22. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  16. ^ Dr. Theresa Tam [@CPHO_Canada] (January 26, 2020). ""3/3 There is no clear evidence that this virus is spread easily from person to person. The risk to Canadians remains low. Find more info on #2019nCoV #coronavirus here:"" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 29 January 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2020 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ "Coronavirus: Here's a timeline of COVID-19 cases in Canada". Global News. 2020-03-03. Retrieved 2021-04-20.
  18. ^ Robertson, Grant; Walsh, Marieke (2021-03-29). "Tam criticized for supporting 'indefensible' assessment of COVID-19 risk". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2021-09-13.
  19. ^ "Statements from the Chief Public Health Officer". Public Health Agency of Canada. Archived from the original on 2020-04-19. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
  20. ^ "Feds launch ad campaign urging social distancing, hygiene during COVID-19 crisis". CTV News. 22 March 2020. Archived from the original on 27 March 2020. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Tam: Current evidence doesn't support public needing masks". CTV News. 30 March 2020. Retrieved 27 March 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ a b "Canada's top doctor says non-medical masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 6 April 2020. Archived from the original on 3 July 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  23. ^ "Prime Minister announces new support for COVID-19 medical research and vaccine development". Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. 23 April 2020. Archived from the original on 1 May 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  24. ^ "Canadians should wear masks as an 'added layer of protection,' says Tam". Canadian Broadcast Corporation. 20 May 2020. Archived from the original on 8 July 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  25. ^ Neustaeter, Brooklyn (2020-11-03). "'Another layer of protection': Feds now recommend three-layer masks with filters". CTV News. Retrieved 2021-03-25.
  26. ^ Brewster, Murray (25 March 2021). "Public Health Agency was unprepared for the pandemic and 'underestimated' the danger, auditor general says". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 April 2021.

Media files used on this page

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Theresa Tam, Promoting Vaccine Confidence.jpg
HS Secretary Alex Azar joined top health officials and global health partners at a World Health Assembly side event to look at ways to boost public trust in vaccines as our most reliable front line defense against disease. Speakers at the event included Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada