2021 Winner

Oxford Vaccine Team

British scientists behind the vaccine that has helped give us our lives back, and is also the most potent weapon against Covid in the developing world.

Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team in Oxford had spent years preparing for “Disease X” – a completely new illness that would require a completely new vaccine. The problem was they expected it to be happening thousands of miles
away. “The idea of having to live through a pandemic while we developed a vaccine to get us out of a pandemic?” says Sarah. “We hadn’t planned for that.”

And so the team was forced to endure all the tribulations of lockdown, while they tried to find the key to getting us all out of it. With supermarket shelves bare and canteens closed, they worked 18-hour days fuelled by whatever they could find in the office vending machine. “We ate nothing but Mini Cheddars and Bounty bars for two weeks solid,” says geneticist Dr Catherine Green. Other colleagues were working at home, juggling vital research with homeschooling and worrying about dwindling supplies of loo roll.

The team also knew that developing the vaccine was only part of the battle – they had to be ready to produce and deliver it in unprecedented numbers, so they teamed up with drug giant AstraZeneca, who agreed to provide it at cost, making it as accessible as possible to developing nations.

Despite politicised rows with Europe over the rollout, and the reporting of concerns over side effects, the incredible impact of this team is undeniable.

Amid the vast wave of vaccination statistics, one in particular stands out. By the end of July 2021, seven months after it was licensed, a billion doses of the Oxford vaccine had been delivered to more than 170 countries around the world.