Women are a big force behind vaccines for COVID-19. In India as Covaxin and Covishield get approvals for a mass vaccination drive, the attention is also on people behind these vaccines. Many women around the world are at the forefront of research, development and trials of the COVID-19 vaccines. The various vaccines which have been developed in different parts of the world stem from the brain-racking and hard-work of many exemplary women who are dedicated to the cause of liberating the humankind from the clutches of the virus.
Here’s a list of 10 remarkable women who productively contributed to the development of vaccine:
Dr. K Sumathy is an Indian scientist who leads the research and development wing of Bharat Biotech. The Indian biotech company headquartered at Hyderabad developed India’s first indigenous vaccine Covaxin. A member of the core team of scientists responsible for COVID vaccine development, she was also instrumental in developing successful vaccines against diseases like Zika and Chikungunya too.
Sarah Gilbert is a British vaccinologist and the co-founder of Vaccitech. She is also a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford. The 58-year old biologist-vaccinologist is one of the most prominent figures who developed Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine was up to 90 percent effective in the late-stage clinical trials. She, along with Adrian Hill, strived to put together the foundation of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine’s foundation. which they eventually successfully patented. The team was granted 2.2 million Euros from the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research and the UK Research and Innovation in March 2020.
Moreover, she is also a mother to triplets and her children also participated in the trials. Her intelligent and hopeful persona could be seen in her interview with Bloomberg in July. As stated by her, her biggest strength lied in the fact that she knew how to balance the hopes needed to cheer up the distressed humankind with the reality. Nevertheless, she had been tirelessly working day and night, waking up at four every morning since the outbreak and working for research and development of the vaccine.
She is the senior Vice President of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. A researcher and vaccine developer, the 66-year old Hungarian woman played an extremely important role in developing Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with her expertise in RNA. The vaccine showed 95 percent effectiveness in the clinical trials back in November 2020. She has been lauded for her valuable contribution to bring out a COVID-19 vaccine at the earliest.
Before RNA was a multibillion-dollar idea, it was unpractical for most of the researchers. Hence, the Hungarian-born scientist was a career dead-end earlier. Katalin spent the 1990s suffering from rejections. Her work and idea, attempting to harness the power of RNA to fight disease, seemed too far-fetched and fragile for government grants, corporate funding, and even support from her own colleagues. However, this work of hers is leading the way in the COVID-19 vaccine race at the moment.
Özlem Türeci is a German immunologist, businessperson and the Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech. Along with her husband Ugur Sahin who is the CEO of the same biotech company, they developed the COVID-19 vaccine in the shortest possible time. Both Turkish-born, it took them and its U.S. partner, Pfizer, 10 months to develop the vaccine. Consequently, the United Kingdom granted its emergency-use authorisation. Surprisingly, the vaccine is an outcome of three decades of their expertise, which started long before the virus first appeared in humans in 2019.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Dr Kizzmekia Corbett is an African-American viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She is currently the leading scientist of the VRC’s Coronavirus Team, set up for research and development of vaccines for a myriad of novel coronavirus vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine. She is the part of a team that worked with the biotechnology company Moderna for two COVID-19 vaccines.
Nita Patel is the leading molecular scientist of Novavax, an American vaccine development company headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Another feat of the vaccine development is that her vaccine team is identified as an ‘all-female’ one. Although the vaccine is still in its final trial stages, the word is out that it looks promising. Being the senior director of the vaccine development program, the vaccine is also based on innovative and unique ideas. The chief scientist and her boss Gale Smith called Nita, who is an immigrant from Gujarat, ‘genius and invaluable’.
Hailing from Sojitra, a farming village in Gujarat, she has struggled a long way to reach where she is today. She was 4 years old when her family fell into poverty after her father nearly died from tuberculosis. Although he survived, he couldn’t work again and motivated Nita to become a doctor and find a cure for TB. Patel’s consequent quest to battle TB and other infectious diseases led her to lead the race of developing COVID-19 vaccine now.
Lisa A. Jackson
Dr. Lisa A. Jackson is a senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, who headed the NIH/Moderna phase 3 trial in the United States. The TIME magazine quoted her work on the unexpectedly high efficacy of the vaccine developed by the NIH and Moderna. The investigational COVID-19 vaccine, known as mRNA-1273 had an outstanding efficacy rate of 94.5 percent. She oversaw phase 1 clinical trials for the vaccine and inoculated the study’s first participants.
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, which leapfrogged over other Euro-American vaccines for its efficacy of above 95 percent was also headed by the German scientist Kathrine Jansen. She held innumerable discussions of a 650-person team via Zoom meetings. Katherine is the Head of Vaccine Research and Development for Pfizer. After migrating from Germany to the US, she pursued her research on a yeast-based HPV vaccine and had developed a pneumococcal vaccine. Furthermore, she coordinated the research process on mRNA approach for the vaccine with Katalin Kariko.
Hanneke Schuitemaker is a Dutch virologist and a Professor of Virology at the Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam. She is also the Global Head of Viral Vaccine Discovery and Translational Medicine at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Vaccines & Prevention. The 57-year old scientist led the Covid-19 vaccine development trials from Netherlands, while continuing her research on HIV vaccine.
A mother of three, she maturely spoke in length about what’s there in store for us in future. In an interview with Johnson and Johnson, she said. “I really hope we will learn lessons from this period, not only from a virological point of view, but also in terms of how we choose to live our lives.”
Elena Smolyarchuk is a Russian scientist and the director of the Centre of Clinical Research of Medicines at Sechenov, University in Moscow led the study for Russian vaccine, Sputnik V. She was the chief researcher of the study for the development of vaccine in Russia.