Meet Sarah Gilbert, the female scientist leading Oxford vaccine team – and about to make history –

Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:54 pm

But ProfGilbert maintainsthat she never meant to become a vaccine specialist.

I actually came to Oxford to work on a human genetics project, she told a newspaper. That highlighted the role of a particular type of immune response in protection against malaria and so the next thing to move on to was to make a vaccine that would work through that type of immune response - and thats how I got into vaccines.

One can't help but feel thankful she did. With worldwide coronavirus cases topping two million, and economists predicting a financial crash from extended periods of lockdown,the race to develop a vaccine is urgent.It is thought that 60-70 per centof people need to be immune to the virus in order to stop it spreading.

Can it be achieved?

As ever, ProfGilbert remained measured when discussing this. She has said in the media that "nobody can give any guarantees, nobody can promise its going to work and nobody can give you a definite date, but we have to do all we can as fast as we can.

She is also breath of fresh air in the science research industry, which still remains male dominated. According to the Women in Science and Engineering (Wise) campaigns latest analysis,women in science professional roles now make up to 45.7 per cent of the workforce. However, worldwide, less than 30 per cent of the worlds researchers are women.

Plus, the gender pay gap for UK scientists has widened. According to the the2019 edition of the annual salary survey carried out byNew Scientistand science recruitment specialists SRG, the average female scientist or engineer now earns 35,600, while the average for men is 45,800 a 22 per cent difference.

Although the gender balance is closing in, historically women at the forefront of pioneering research haven't got a fair deal.Katherine Johnson, the American mathematician who contributed calculations to the Apollo 11 mission, was overlooked for years in her vital role. Last year, Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who helped discover DNA but was overshadowed by her female colleagues, was finally granted recognition after a space robot was named after her.

But with the well-being of society - quite literally - in her hands, it seems fitting that Prof Gilbert should be honoured for her efforts far sooner. The Jenner Institute, where the coronavirus vaccine is being trialed, is named after Edward Jenner who helped develop a vaccination against Smallpox. Perhaps Gilberttoo could one day see an institute named after her.

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Meet Sarah Gilbert, the female scientist leading Oxford vaccine team - and about to make history -

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