Women Scientists behind the COVID-19 vaccines

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the trailblazing women of science and their contributions to the biopharmaceutical industry.

Female Scientist experimenting with a beaker in her hand

Thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, we are able to commemorate that over 49.1 million have been fully vaccinated to date, accounting for 73% of the population here in the UK according to Our World in Data. The frontline research teams responsible for the development of the three vaccines available here in the UK (Oxford Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson) were headed up by women. Meet some the scientists behind these vaccines.

Professor Sarah Gilbert – Oxford / Astra Zeneca

The Oxford / Astra Zeneca vaccine has been significant in the fight against COVID-19 not only here in the UK, but also in many low-income countries. The research led by British scientist Prof Sarah Gilbert, alongside her female driven team, co-created, designed and manufactured the vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe. Gilbert, 59, was made a dame in February 2022 by the Princess Royal for her scientific contribution towards the Astra Zeneca vaccine that went on to save millions of lives. Toy maker Mattel in recognition of Gilbert’s scientific accolades, created a Barbie doll designed in her image. She hopes the doll will inspire more young girls to pursue a career in science.

Professor Dam Sarah Gilbert | Credit image:

Dr Kathrin Jansen – Pfizer

Dr Jansen, in January 2020, could already anticipate that the COVID-19 virus outbreak in China was going to “get out of control”. What she didn’t anticipate, was that she would head up a team of 700 researchers to combat this virus by developing an effective vaccine. Dr Jansen, 62, is the Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research and Development (VRD) at Pfizer. “I look at it like a war,” Jansen said. “The world is in a race to develop vaccines and therapies against COVID-19, the enemy. Nothing aligns humankind more that a common enemy. We are all in it together.” The Pfizer vaccine went on to save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of hospital admissions.

Dr Kathrin Jansen | image credit: Natalie Keyssar

Professor Hanneke Schuitemaker – Johnson & Johnson

Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) was one among dozens of biopharmaceutical companies working tirelessly to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19. Prof Schuitemaker, a Dutch virologist, is the Global Head of Viral Vaccine Discovery and Translational Medicine at Janssen Pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson. She has worked on some of the world’s most pervasive infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. Schuitemaker was tasked with developing a potential vaccine against COVID-19. “Nothing could have prepared me for what we’re going through now.”, she said. Despite this, Schuitemaker is proud of the way her research team and employer have acted on finding a vaccine. “Everyone has come to the table with the same goal. It really makes this an exciting area to work in.” she said.

Professor Hanneke Schuitemaker | Credit image: Fierce Healthcare

Final word, these women, like many others have been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19. Including those on the front line of the NHS and care homes. As a female-led company in a traditionally male dominated industry, we recognise the importance of female leaders and role models. That is why making stories like these are all the more significant.

To these women, and to all female leaders in our industry, we offer our praise and salute. Happy International Women’s Day.

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