The woman behind the world-saving vaccine

Up all night: Sarah Gilbert says having triplets helped her get used to staying up late. © Getty

Should she get a Nobel Prize? Supporters say Professor Sarah Gilbert deserves the award after producing a vaccine for Covid-19. But some think it should be celebrated as a team effort.

What’s happening

In March, the world shut down. People everywhere stayed home. But Sarah Gilbert kept going into work.

That is because her job is making vaccines. And this year she had one vital task: to protect people from Covid-19. Now, after months of work, she and her team at Oxford University can celebrate.

Find out more

For the past months, Sarah’s team in Oxford have been testing a new vaccine in trials. Last week, the results showed that it is over 90% effective.

The news came just a week after two other companies announced similar news. However, the Oxford vaccine is cheaper than the others. It can be kept in normal fridges and moved easily. Many hope this will help save lives in poorer countries.

Professor Gilbert was already working on vaccines for viruses before Covid-19. That meant her team had a head start and could work very quickly.

But it was still hard work and there were lots of long nights. Sarah is used to missing sleep from when she had baby triplets. She says, “You’re lucky if you get four hours!”

Should she get the Nobel Prize?

Some say…

Maybe not. There is no doubt that her work is incredible. But it was not just Sarah Gilbert who made the vaccine. There are the other members of her team. There are the people who bravely took part in trials to make sure it was safe. The vaccine may have been made in record time – but it was not down to one person. It was a team effort.

Others think…

Yes, of course! You can’t give a Nobel Prize to a whole team. Sarah Gilbert was the leader and she worked non-stop to make a vaccine. Her new vaccine is safe and easy to transport. It could save millions of lives. Besides, her friends say she is very humble. If she wins the award, she will definitely thank everyone who helped her.

You Decide

  1. When working on a task, is it better to work slower in a team or power ahead alone?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are going to meet Sarah Gilbert for an interview. In small groups, come up with a list of five questions to ask her.

Some People Say...

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”

H E Luccock, American pastor and University professor

What do you think?

Word Watch

Vaccines
A fluid that helps your body become immune to a disease caused by certain germs. The vaccine usually contains some of that germ. Because the germ in the vaccine is not harmful, the body can learn to recognise it and trains the immune system to fight it.
Vital
Something very important and necessary for life. It comes from a Latin word for life.
Trials
All vaccines go through tests to see if they are safe and if they work. The scientists vaccinated thousands of volunteers. Then, they check back to see how people are affected.
Poorer countries
The two other successful vaccines cost as much as £28 per dose. The vaccine made by Pfizer needs to be stored at -70C. This means that only very rich countries could afford to give them to people and store them in proper freezers.
Viruses
Covid-19 is a kind of coronavirus. Nobody has ever made a human vaccine for these before, but the team was trying to make one before the pandemic. When Covid-19 started spreading, they had lots of research and work already done.
Triplets
Three children born in a single birth.
Nobel Prize
One of six prizes awarded each year for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and the promotion of peace.
Humble
Not proud, modest.

Subjects

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