Race Against The Virus: The
It’s not often you look across a room and think ‘without a doubt, those people saved my dad’s life’ – but at yesterday’s Oxford Literary Festival event it’s likely I was not the only audience member who felt a deep gratitude to the five leading figures behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid 19 vaccine. It was wonderful to hear their stories, and see their work celebrated in the city where so much of the work happened.
The story of this vaccine is one of quiet, unassuming, brilliant heroism, starting with early reports coming out of
During the first lockdown much of
What struck me was how well the scientific community backed each other up – private and academic organisations stepping in to keep the momentum going, and to make it possible for the vaccine team to follow all the necessary stages and regulatory requirements, but without the delays usually experienced in ‘normal times’. I was also deeply moved by the team’s early insistence that this vaccine needed to be suitable for the whole world – not just those with great wealth, or sophisticated public health systems. To hear that AstraZeneca were the only company who were prepared to commit to that, and to scale operations accordingly, was also a poignant moment – particularly when the team mentioned that they had to teach AZ how to make the vaccine, and now that company has created billions of doses.
Sadly, challenges from distorted media coverage were also part of this story. The team talked about the effects of click-bait editorial policies and fake news – from a trial participant wrongly reported as dead (she was still very much alive) to the experience of seeing completely normal delays in vaccine development reported as stories of dramatic dangers. The nationalistic tones of vaccine reporting were also unhelpful, and the team acknowledged that hoping ‘the science will speak for itself’ is now an outdated notion, with an increasing need to explain uncertainly and complexity to the public.
This event was also Oxford Literary Festival’s inaugural Science and Innovation Awards Ceremony – with contemporary ceramic vessels presented to the core vaccine team members, and a wider team invited to stand and be applauded. It ended with a standing ovation for all involved, and encouragingly long queues for signed copies of Gilbert and Green’s book, Vaxxers.
We strongly recommend reading Vaxxers, to learn more about the full story of how the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine came about, and to celebrate an element of
More info on the book: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Vaxxers-...
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Original event listing: https://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-even...