Neil Ferguson (epidemiologist)
Neil Morris Ferguson
1968 (age 52–53)
|Education||Llanidloes High School|
|Known for||Mathematical modelling of the COVID-19 pandemic|
Imperial College London
|Thesis||Continuous interpolations from crystalline to dynamically triangulated random surfaces (1994)|
|Doctoral advisor||John Wheater|
Neil Morris Ferguson epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biology, who specialises in the patterns of spread of infectious disease in humans and animals. He is the director of the Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, and head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Vice-Dean for Academic Development in the Faculty of Medicine, all at Imperial College London.(born 1968) is a British
Ferguson has used mathematical modelling to provide data on several disease outbreaks including the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak, the swine flu outbreak in 2009 in the UK, the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak and the ebola epidemic in Western Africa in 2016. His work has also included research on mosquito-borne diseases including zika fever, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria.
In February 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first detected in China, Ferguson and his team used statistical models to estimate that cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) were significantly under-detected in China. He is part of UK's Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team.
Early life and education
Ferguson was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, but grew up in Mid Wales, where he attended Llanidloes High School. His father was an educational psychologist, while his mother was a librarian who later became an Anglican priest.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics in 1990 at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in theoretical physics in 1994 at Linacre College, Oxford. His doctoral research investigated interpolations from crystalline to dynamically triangulated random surfaces and was supervised by John Wheater. It was there that he attended a lecture by Robert May on modelling the HIV epidemic, which together with the death of a friend's brother from AIDS, interested him in pursuing the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases.
Career and research
Using mathematical and statistical models he studies the processes that influence the development, evolution and transmission of infectious diseases. These have included SARS, pandemic influenza, BSE/vCJD, foot-and-mouth disease, HIV and smallpox, in addition to bioterrorism.
Ferguson was part of Roy Anderson's group of infectious disease scientists who moved from the University of Oxford to Imperial College in November 2000, and started working on modelling the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak a few months later.
Ferguson and colleagues founded the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis in 2008. He advises the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union, and the governments of the UK and United States, on the dynamics of infectious disease. He is an international member of the National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and is on the editorial boards of PLOS Computational Biology and Journal of the Royal Society Interface. He is a founding editor of the journal Epidemics.
In October 2019, Ferguson was appointed inaugural director of the Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), a research institute at Imperial College London in the fields of epidemiology, mathematical modelling of infectious diseases and emergencies, environmental health, and health economics. The Jameel Institute was part of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team.
As of February 2020, at Imperial College, London, he was a professor of mathematical biology, director of the Jameel Institute (J-IDEA), head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Vice-Dean for Academic Development in the Faculty of Medicine.
As of March 2020, Ferguson was a member of the UK Department of Health advisory body called the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), which advises the CMOUK.
Foot-and-mouth disease – 2001
During the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak Ferguson worked on the team, led by Roy M. Anderson of Imperial College, creating mathematical models used to inform the UK Government of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth-disease. Ferguson published a journal article in Science magazine in April 2001 describing the mathematical models that were relied upon by the UK government to recommend the mass slaughter of millions of cows, sheep and pigs in the UK in order to stop the spread of the disease; over a decade later, the BBC would remind its readers Ferguson "was among those advising government on how to control the epidemic a decade ago."
Bird flu – 2005
In 2005, Neil Ferguson said that bird flu could kill as many as 200 million people worldwide. He stated that "Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak" and that "There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it [the death toll from bird flu] up to around 200 million people probably." He also warned that failure to take swift action would be catastrophic for the United Kingdom, saying that "If the virus got as far as Britain, it would effectively be too late".
Swine flu – 2009
During the swine flu outbreak in 2009 in the UK, in an article titled "Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic" published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, Ferguson and colleagues endorsed the closure of schools in order to interrupt the course of the infection, slow further spread and buy time to research and produce a vaccine. Ferguson's team reported on the economic and workforce effect school closure would have, particularly with a large percentage of doctors and nurses being women, of whom half had children under the age of 16.
They studied previous influenza pandemics including the 1918 flu pandemic, the influenza pandemic of 1957 and the 1968 flu pandemic. They also looked at the dynamics of the spread of influenza in France during French school holidays and noted that cases of flu dropped when schools closed and re-emerged when they reopened. They noted that when teachers in Israel went on strike during the flu season of 1999–2000, visits to doctors and the number of respiratory infections, fell by more than a fifth and more than two-fifths respectively.
In the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's "follow-up" to the swine flu epidemic in 2009, Ferguson recommended that to halt transmission of swine flu, actions would need to include "treating isolated cases with antivirals, public health measures such as school closures, travel restrictions around the region, mass use of antiviral prophylaxis in the population and possible use of vaccines". He was also asked why there was not a policy for vaccinating frontline healthcare workers at that time.
MERS-CoV – 2013
Ebola – 2014
In 2014, as the director of the UK Medical Research Council's centre for outbreak analysis and modelling at Imperial, Ferguson provided data analysis for the WHO, on Ebola during the ebola epidemic in Western Africa. In the same year, he co-wrote a paper with Christopher J. M. Whitty and Jeremy Farrar, published in Nature, titled "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission", explaining the UK government's response to ebola in Sierra Leone, including the proposal to build and support centres where people could self-isolate voluntarily if they suspected they had the disease.
Zika – 2016
In 2016, he co-wrote a paper titled "Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America", published in Science. Although disputed by at least one other biostatistician, Ferguson and his team concluded that the age distribution of future outbreaks of zika will likely differ and that a new large epidemic would be delayed for “at least a decade”. Cases of zika dropped after 2016. That year, he predicted that the zika outbreak in the Americas would be over within three years, and clarified that "viruses tend to return when there are enough susceptible people, such as children, to sustain a new outbreak".
Dengue virus – 2015
Wolbachia is a bacterium frequently found in insects but not in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the dengue virus. In 2015, Ferguson published a paper titled "Modeling the impact on virus transmission of Wolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection of Aedes aegypti", in which he and his team presented their experiments and used a mathematical model to show that one strain of Wolbachia, could reduce the ability of the Aedes aegypti mosquito to transmit dengue, with a 66-75% reduction in the basic reproduction number.
COVID-19 – 2020
In February 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, using statistical models that considered data on the number of deaths and recoveries inside China, travellers outside China and in those affected that had returned home, Ferguson, Azra Ghani and their team estimated that detected cases of COVID-19 had significantly underestimated the actual spread of the disease in China. That month he stated that only 10% of cases were being detected in China. At the same time, it was noted that the number of available testing kits had come into question, and Ferguson calculated that only one in three cases coming into the UK was being detected. He stated "that approximately two-thirds of cases in travellers from China have not yet been detected. It is highly likely that some of these undetected cases will have started chains of transmission within the countries they entered." He said that the new coronavirus could affect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario, and "suggest(ed) that the impact of the unfolding epidemic may be comparable to the major influenza pandemics of the twentieth century." His team's publication in mid-March of the projections that the UK could face hundreds of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 without strict social distancing measures, gained widespread media attention. In late March, he calculated that with "strict social distancing, testing and isolation of infected cases", deaths in the UK could fall to less than 20,000.
Ferguson's research has raised questions by virologist Hendrik Streeck. Ferguson is the corresponding author for a paper titled "Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand", which describes itself as having "informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in recent weeks". Streeck stated in reference to the paper "In the – really good – model studies by the Imperial College about the progress of the epidemic, the authors assume, for example, that 50 percent of households in which there is a case do not comply with the voluntary quarantine. Where does such an assumption come from? I think we should establish more facts." The Covid-19 computer model which Ferguson authored (see CovidSim) was initially criticised as "unreliable" and "a buggy mess," but subsequent efforts to reproduce the results were successful.
Criticism of predictions
In April 2020, The Spectator published an article entitled "Six questions that Neil Ferguson should be asked, which pointed out the innacurary of his estimated potential death tolls for bird flu ("around 200 million people probably"; the actual count was under 300), swine flu (up to 65,000; the reality was below 500), foot and mouth disease, BSE (up to 50,000; the known deaths total 177) and Covid-19 (quoting a Stanford University professor who considered Ferguson's calculations "substantially inflated").
Resignation from SAGE
On 5 May 2020, it emerged that Ferguson had resigned from his position as a government advisor on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee after admitting to "undermining" the government's messages on social distancing by meeting up with a woman. The Telegraph reported that the woman had visited his home at least two times. After resigning, Ferguson said "I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms", adding that he regretted undermining "clear messages" about the need for social distancing. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that he was right to resign from his advisory position. Ferguson did not receive a fine or prosecution for his actions, as at the time it was not illegal as he had not left his home; this legal loophole was later closed. However, throughout this time Ferguson has remained on the List of participants of SAGE and related sub-groups, so it is not clear if his resignation was actually accepted.
Awards and honours
Ferguson was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2002 New Year Honours for his work modelling the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2005. He is also an International Member of the US National Academy of Medicine.
In recognition of his policy work on non-pharmaceutical intervention measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferguson received an Emergent Ventures award and associated grant money from the Mercatus Center.
|Scholia has a profile for Neil M. Ferguson (Q54209622).|
- Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic
- "Travel patterns in China"
- Identification of MERS-CoV in dromedary camels
- Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission
- Modeling the impact on virus transmission of Wolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection of Aedes aegypti
- Assessing the epidemiological effect of wolbachia for dengue control
- Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America
- Challenges and opportunities in controlling mosquito-borne infections
- All reports published on COVID-19
- Report 9: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand
- Estimating the number of infections and the impact of nonpharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries
Ferguson reported on 18 March 2020 that he had developed the symptoms of COVID-19, and self-isolated. He recovered after a mild illness. Ferguson is separated from his wife and has one son.
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- Metcalf, C Jessica E.; Farrar, Jeremy; Cutts, Felicity T.; Basta, Nicole E.; Graham, Andrea L.; Lessler, Justin; Ferguson, Neil M.; Burke, Donald S.; Grenfell, Bryan T. (2016). "Use of serological surveys to generate key insights into the changing global landscape of infectious disease". The Lancet. 388 (10045): 728–30. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30164-7. PMC 5678936. PMID 27059886.
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The Imperial team alone had much to offer. Dr Neil Ferguson, a mathematical epidemiologist, had already started to analyse the numbers. He was alarmed by what his computer seemed to be saying: the disease was out of control.
- Ferguson, Neil (11 May 2001). "The Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic in Great Britain: Pattern of Spread and Impact of Interventions". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 292 (5519): 1155–1160. Bibcode:2001Sci...292.1155F. doi:10.1126/science.1061020. PMID 11303090. S2CID 16914744. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
The quality of fit of the model to the data was good (Fig. 3, A through C), given the fluctuating nature of daily case reports. Incidence predictions are plotted (Fig. 3D) for the best fit model and for the parameter sets corresponding to the upper and lower 95% confidence bounds on predicted total epidemic size (measured by R 0). The 95% confidence bounds on the final size of the epidemic were estimated as 44 to 64% of the population at risk. Here we assume the population at risk to be the approximately 45,000 farms in the currently infected areas in Great Britain, under the presumption that infection is prevented from spreading further.
- Pallab Ghosh (6 May 2011). "Mass culling for foot-and-mouth 'may be unnecessary'". BBC. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, was among those advising government on how to control the epidemic a decade ago.
- Sturcke, James (30 September 2005). "Bird flu pandemic 'could kill 150m'". The Guardian.
- "UK would be 'overwhelmed' by bird flu". The Guardian. 3 August 2005.
- "2009 Press Releases". Health Protection Agency. 24 December 2009. Archived from the original on 3 March 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
- Cauchemez, Simon; Ferguson, Neil M; Wachtel, Claude; Tegnell, Anders; Saour, Guillaume; Duncan, Ben; Nicoll, Angus (2009). "Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 9 (8): 473–81. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(09)70176-8. ISSN 1473-3099. PMC 7106429. PMID 19628172.
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- Pandemic influenza: follow-up, 3rd report of session 2008-09, report with evidence. The Stationery Office. 2009. pp. 24–26. ISBN 978-0-10-844484-5.
- Roos, Robert (16 December 2013). "Nearly identical MERS-CoV strains found in camels, humans". CIDRAP. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
- Gallagher, James (6 September 2014). "Ebola: How bad can it get?". BBC News. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
- Whitty, Christopher J. M.; Farrar, Jeremy; Ferguson, Neil; Edmunds, W. John; Piot, Peter; Leach, Melissa; Davies, Sally C. (2014). "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission". Nature. 515 (7526): 192–94. Bibcode:2014Natur.515..192W. doi:10.1038/515192a. PMID 25391946.
- "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission | Ebola Response Anthropology Platform". ebola-anthropology.net. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
- Ferguson, Neil M.; Gog, Julia R.; Ballesteros, Sébastien; Viboud, Cécile; Simonsen, Lone; Bjornstad, Ottar N.; Shaman, Jeffrey; Chao, Dennis L.; Khan, Farid; Grenfell, Bryan T. (2014). "Spatial Transmission of 2009 Pandemic Influenza in the US". PLOS Computational Biology. 10 (6): e1003635. Bibcode:2014PLSCB..10E3635G. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003635. ISSN 1553-7358. PMC 4055284. PMID 24921923.
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- Counotte, Michel J.; Althaus, Christian L.; Low, Nicola; Riou, Julien (26 December 2019). "Impact of age-specific immunity on the timing and burden of the next Zika virus outbreak". PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 13 (12): e0007978. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0007978. ISSN 1935-2727. PMC 6948816. PMID 31877200.
- Szabo, Liz. "Zika outbreak may have peaked in Brazil, researchers say". USA Today. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
- "Genome Sequence of the Intracellular Bacterium Wolbachia". PLOS Biology. 2 (3): e76. 16 March 2004. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020076. ISSN 1545-7885. PMC 368170.
- Zhang, Hong; Lui, Roger (7 January 2020). "Releasing Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti to prevent the spread of dengue virus: A mathematical study". Infectious Disease Modelling. 5: 142–60. doi:10.1016/j.idm.2019.12.004. ISSN 2468-2152. PMC 6962337. PMID 31956742.
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- Professor Neil Ferguson on the current 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak. Video Interview (5 February 2020)
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- Eubank, S.; Eckstrand, I.; Lewis, B.; Venkatramanan, S.; Marathe, M.; Barrett, C. L. (8 April 2020). "Commentary on Ferguson, et al., 'Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID-19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand'". Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. 82 (4): 52. doi:10.1007/s11538-020-00726-x. ISSN 1522-9602. PMC 7140590. PMID 32270376.
- Ciminelli, Gabriele; Garcia-Mandicó, Sílvia (22 April 2020). "COVID-19 in Italy: An analysis of death registry data". Journal of Public Health (Oxford, England). 42 (4): 723–730. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdaa165. PMC 7543414. PMID 32935849. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
- Adam, David (2 April 2020). "Special report: The simulations driving the world's response to COVID-19". Nature. 580 (7803): 316–18. Bibcode:2020Natur.580..316A. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-01003-6. PMID 32242115.
- Ferguson, N; Laydon, D; Nedjati Gilani, G; Imai, N; Ainslie, K; Baguelin, M; Bhatia, S; Boonyasiri, A; Cucunuba Perez, Zulma; Cuomo-Dannenburg, G; Dighe, A; Dorigatti, I; Fu, H; Gaythorpe, K; Green, W; Hamlet, A; Hinsley, W; Okell, L; Van Elsland, S; Thompson, H; Verity, R; Volz, E; Wang, H; Wang, Y; Walker, P; Winskill, P; Whittaker, C; Donnelly, C; Riley, S; Ghani, A (16 March 2020). Report 9: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand (PDF) (Report). doi:10.25561/77482. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
- "Einzelne Übertragungen im Supermarkt sind nicht das Problem" (in German). Zeit Online. 6 April 2020.
- Hannah Boland; Ellie Zolfagharifard (16 May 2020). "Coding that led to lockdown was 'totally unreliable' and a 'buggy mess', say experts". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
Professor Neil Ferguson's computer coding was derided as “totally unreliable” by leading figures
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- Singh Chawla, Dalmeet (8 June 2020). "Critiqued coronavirus simulation gets thumbs up from code-checking efforts". Nature. 582 (7812): 323–324. Bibcode:2020Natur.582..323S. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-01685-y. PMID 32546864. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
- Mikhailova, Anna; Hope, Christopher; Gillard, Michael; Wells, Louisa (5 May 2020). "Exclusive: Government scientist Neil Ferguson resigns after breaking lockdown rules to meet his married lover". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
- Wright, Oliver (6 May 2020). "Top government adviser quits after breaking lockdown with his mistress". The Times. No. 73152. p. 1.
She lives with her husband and their children in another house.CS1 maint: location (link)
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- Neil Ferguson publications from Europe PubMed Central
- Neil Ferguson publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
- Neil Ferguson publications indexed by Google Scholar
- Jones, James; Garske, Tini; Yu, Hongjie; Peng, Zhibin; Ye, Min; Zhou, Hang; Cheng, Xiaowen; Wu, Jiabing; Ferguson, Neil (2011). "Travel Patterns in China". PLOS ONE. 6 (2): e16364. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...616364G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016364. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3032737. PMID 21311745.
- Ferguson, Neil M; Van Kerkhove, Maria D (2014). "Identification of MERS-CoV in dromedary camels". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 14 (2): 93–94. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70691-1. ISSN 1473-3099. PMC 7129298. PMID 24355867.
- Whitty, Christopher J. M.; Farrar, Jeremy; Ferguson, Neil; Edmunds, W. John; Piot, Peter; Leach, Melissa; Davies, Sally C. (2014). "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission". Nature. 515 (7526): 192–94. Bibcode:2014Natur.515..192W. doi:10.1038/515192a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 25391946.
- Ferguson, Neil M.; Hue Kien, Duong Thi; Clapham, Hannah; Aguas, Ricardo; Trung, Vu Tuan; Bich Chau, Tran Nguyen; Popovici, Jean; Ryan, Peter A.; O’Neill, Scott L.; McGraw, Elizabeth A.; Long, Vo Thi; Dui, Le Thi; Nguyen, Hoa L.; Vinh Chau, Nguyen Van; Wills, Bridget; Simmons, Cameron P. (2015). "Modeling the impact on virus transmission ofWolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection ofAedes aegypti". Science Translational Medicine. 7 (279): 279ra37. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3010370. ISSN 1946-6234. PMC 4390297. PMID 25787763.
- Lambrechts, Louis; Ferguson, Neil M; Harris, Eva; Holmes, Edward C; McGraw, Elizabeth A; O'Neill, Scott L; Ooi, Eng E; Ritchie, Scott A; Ryan, Peter A; Scott, Thomas W; Simmons, Cameron P; Weaver, Scott C (2015). "Assessing the epidemiological effect of wolbachia for dengue control". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 15 (7): 862–66. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00091-2. ISSN 1473-3099. PMC 4824166. PMID 26051887.
- Ferguson, N. M.; Cucunuba, Z. M.; Dorigatti, I.; Nedjati-Gilani, G. L.; Donnelly, C. A.; Basanez, M.-G.; Nouvellet, P.; Lessler, J. (2016). "Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America". Science. 353 (6297): 353–54. Bibcode:2016Sci...353..353F. doi:10.1126/science.aag0219. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 5475255. PMID 27417493.
- Ferguson, Neil M. (2018). "Challenges and opportunities in controlling mosquito-borne infections". Nature. 559 (7715): 490–97. Bibcode:2018Natur.559..490F. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0318-5. hdl:10044/1/61974. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 30046071. S2CID 50786145.
- "COVID-19 reports". Imperial College London. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
- Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (16 March 2020). "Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand" (PDF).
- Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (30 March 2020). "Estimating the number of infections and the impact of nonpharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries" (PDF). p. 35.
- Proctor, Kate (27 March 2020). "'There is a lot of Covid-19 in Westminster': how politicians fell ill". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
- Abe Hawken (7 May 2020). "Coronavirus UK: Professor Neil Ferguson's mother-in-law defends scientist shamed for breaking coronavirus lockdown". News Corp Australia. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
defended by his wife’s mother, who said he and her daughter Kim Polgreen [...] Dr Ferguson and her daughter Kim – who have a 16-year-old son together