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Race against the virus: the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine journey

Dame Sarah GilbertJohn Cairns

Press release issued: 28 September 2021

In late December 2019, a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases - now known to be the first human cases of COVID-19 - were reported in Wuhan, China. Thanks to the quick action of an Oxford scientist and her team, work on the response to the new virus began. Members of the public have the opportunity to hear the story of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a free online event next month.

Join Dame Sarah Gilbert for the 8th Elizabeth Blackwell Annual Public Lecture entitled ‘Developing the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine’ on Wednesday 6 October from 1 to 2 pm  (UK BST).

In her talk, Dame Sarah, Professor of Vaccinology and the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, will go through the journey from the moment she first heard about a serious new illness affecting people in China, to her team designing a successful COVID-19 vaccine which would save the lives of millions of people.

Hear about the story of how the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine - both cheaper and easier to distribute than some other vaccines - was developed and approved at a pace, while the public waited for science to find a way out of this major global health challenge.

She will look at the reasons some people are hesitant to get vaccinated and discuss how people’s trust in science can be affected by how science is communicated. What can we learn from this pandemic and the ways it could help us plan for future health crises, as we look towards a post-COVID world?

Dame Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: "Collaboration has been essential to the vaccine programme's success, from the research groups that came together here in Oxford to our industrial partners AstraZeneca and other universities both within the UK and wider. Most important though, have been our trial volunteers."  

Dame Sarah Gilbert completed her undergraduate studies at the University of East Anglia and her doctoral degree at the University of Hull. Following four years as a research scientist at the biopharmaceutical company Delta Biotechnology she joined Oxford University in 1994 and became part of the Jenner Institute (within NDM) when it was founded in 2005.

Her chief research interest is the development of viral-vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T and B cell responses. She works on vaccines for many different emerging pathogens, including influenza, Nipah, MERS, Lassa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, and SARS-CoV-2.

Working with colleagues in the Jenner Institute research labs, the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, all situated on the Old Road Campus in Oxford, she is able to take novel vaccines from design to clinical development, with a particular interest in the rapid transfer of vaccines into manufacturing and first in human trials.

This is a FREE online event but requires registration. Tickets can be booked through Eventbrite, where you can also sign up for the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Bulletin to enter a prize draw to win a copy of Vaxxers, the new book by Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green, giving the inside story of the Oxford vaccine and the race against the virus.

The 2021 Elizabeth Blackwell Annual Public Lecture entitled ‘Developing the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine’ will be given at a FREE live online event by Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert on Wednesday 6 October from 1 to 2 pm (UK BST / GMT+1) . 

Further information

About the free online event

  • Members of the public can submit questions for Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert when registering or via email
  • For any questions about the event, email or tel +44 (0)117 428 2473
  • If you are unable to make the event after booking your ticket, please cancel it via Eventbrite or contact so your ticket can be reallocated

About the Elizabeth Blackwell Annual Public Lecture

The Elizabeth Blackwell Annual Public Lecture series is named after Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the USA and to be placed on the UK's medical register. Elizabeth was born in Bristol in 1821 and returned to the UK in 1859 to lecture at a social sciences congress held on the site now occupied by the Wills Memorial Building.

Members of the public are especially welcome to these lectures, which aim to revive the spirit of Elizabeth Blackwell’s Penny Lectures, designed to educate and to encourage new thinking, ideas and debate.

Previous Elizabeth Blackwell public lectures are available to watch or listen again at:

About the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute

Nurturing research. Improving health.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute drives innovation in research to improve health for all. It nurtures interdisciplinary research to address the complex health challenges facing us today.

The institute focuses on:

  • Supporting the next generation of health researchers
  • Connecting people to develop interdisciplinary research
  • Including everyone in research so the research can benefit all.
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