Professor Sarah Gilbert is one of the women behind the University of Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine, which according to the BBC will be up to 90 percent effective in preventing patients from developing covid-19 symptoms. But like most women who are pushed out of STEM fields of work or simply never encouraged to enter them at all, Dr. Gilbert almost quit before she earned her doctorate from the University of Hull. She told a local BBC radio station that her doctorate studies were pretty boring: “There are some scientists who will happily work more or less on their own on one subject for a very long…I like to try to take into account ideas from lots of different areas,” and considered leaving the field of science altogether. But one thing kept the soon-to-be doctor going: cold hard cash. After considering a new career path, Dr. Gilbert said she gave science one more shot because “I needed the income.”
Lucky for all of us, living has gotten so ridiculously expensive that people are forced to stay on career paths they don’t entirely love just for the sake of making rent, and Dr. Gilbert continued to get her P.hD in biological sciences. Her arrival at a covid vaccine was a direct result of her work in trying to develop a universal flu vaccine while teaching at Oxford and caring for her triplets.
Dr. Gilbert was working on an Ebola vaccine trial when, in 2014, she went to Saudi Arabia to help develop a vaccine for a different form of coronavirus, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Sydnrome). By the time covid-19 rolled around in 2020, Dr. Gilbert was on her second trial of a MERS vaccine.
“We were quick,” says her colleague at Oxford, Prof Teresa Lambe. As Chinese scientists published the genetic structure of the new virus “over the weekend, the vaccine was pretty much designed. We went pretty fast with it.”
Dr. Gilbert’s first batch of her vaccine, which had shown promise in the labs at Oxford, went into the manufacturing stage in April and is now testing positively enough to be considered effective. The British government has already pre-ordered 100 million doses and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will be manufacturing the Oxford vaccine for global use sometime next year.