I picked up Vaxxers by Professor Sarah Gilbert & Dr Catherine Green when Waterstones had a half price hardback event at Christmas. I am, like lots of people I’m sure, fascinated by the development of the Covid-19 vaccines, so I thought it would be interesting to read about.
Vaxxers is the story of the development and initial rollout of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine – written by the two women at the very centre of it all. It is a really fascinating and eye opening insight into all the work that goes into making and testing a vaccine. Anyone who believes that ‘we don’t know what’s in it’ or ‘it wasn’t properly tested’ should read this book. Although I know those will be the last people to read this book!
Remarkably, the vaccine was designed in January 2020, when the very earliest reports of a new virus were coming out of China. It was initially designed ‘just in case’. The first testing beginning soon after, when it became clear that the vaccine really would be needed.
The story is told alternately by Professor Sarah Gilbert, who works in early vaccine development at Oxford University, and Dr Catherine Green, who works as head of the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility at Oxford University. They are normal women, with families and lives outside of work to juggle. But early in 2020, their lives were completely taken over by Covid-19 and the development and testing of a safe and highly effective vaccine.
I’m no scientist and, while not the easiest book in the world to read, Vaxxers is mainly explained in terms which someone like me can understand. When the science is set against the real world situation we all know too well, it makes it pretty easy to understand.
Over a year on from the first Covid vaccine, and nearly a year since a lot of us had our first vaccines, is this book still interesting or relevant? I think it is! Covid-19 and the vaccine have been such a huge part of our lives for so long, and it looks like they will be part of our lives for a lot longer. Where would we all be now if it weren’t for the vaccines (either AZ, Pfizer or Moderna)? Realistically, some of us wouldn’t even be here. We all have a lot to be grateful for from these women and their colleagues, who worked so tirelessly throughout the first year of the pandemic to develop vaccines which are safe and have undoubtedly saved millions of lives.
And the book ends with a look to the future. There will be other diseases emerging, there may be other pandemics – and governments, regulators and businesses need to learn the lessons from 2020 and 2021 – so that next time the effects aren’t as devastating.