Vaxxers | Sarah Gilbert

Summary of: Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus
By: Sarah Gilbert


Dive into the thrilling story behind the creation of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and the incredible race against time in ‘Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus’ by Sarah Gilbert. In this summary, you’ll learn about the extensive research leading up to the vaccine’s creation, the unprecedented speed of its production, and the challenges the team faced. Discover the crucial role that technology, collaboration, and dedication played in formulating the vaccine, as well as the continuous effort to overcome the evolving challenges of the COVID-19 virus, safeguard the world from future pandemics, and improve global cooperation.

Preparing for the Next Pandemic

Scientists have been researching viral outbreaks and developing vaccines for years before COVID-19 was ever identified. The book recounts the story of a researcher who encountered skepticism from a camper while discussing the lack of cell phone signal due to 5G towers. The camper revealed her mistrust of people making vaccines, which unknowingly included the researcher herself. The author presents the history of coronaviruses, their transmission to humans, and how previous outbreaks led to the development of effective containment responses. The book aims to educate readers about the importance of preparedness for future pandemics.

Enhancing Vaccine Technology

Inadequate Ebola systems led to the development of a breakthrough vaccine technology platform that enables quick and efficient creation of vaccines for various diseases.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak exposed the inadequacy of existing systems to combat swiftly spreading viruses, with no approved treatments or licensed vaccines available for the fatal disease. Although various Ebola vaccines were being developed, human trials were limited to two vaccines tested on rhesus macaque monkeys. By April 2015, the virus had already spread extensively throughout West Africa, and scientists could only test one vaccine at a time, due to fewer areas of high infection.

However, the testing of VSV, an Ebola vaccine in one region with the help of contact tracing, quarantine, and ongoing clinical trials, led to the containment of the outbreak by June 2016. During this period, the ChAd3 vaccine was no longer necessary, leading to the development of ChAdOx1, a similar vaccine technology designed by Sarah and her team at the University of Oxford.

ChAdOx1 is based on an adenovirus and is a replication-deficient, simian adenoviral-vectored vaccine. This breakthrough platform technology allows for the creation of vaccines for various diseases, including those that do not yet exist, by creating a predesigned framework with science-backed results. Improving virus-suppressing abilities through antibody production without causing illness is the essence of the technology that drives vaccine effectiveness and fast-track development of immunity against diseases. Overall, the Ebola vaccine paved the way for a vaccine platform technology that ensures quick responses and efficient development of vaccines against various diseases.

The Baker Analogy of Platform Technology and Vaccine Development

The ChAdOx1 platform, likened to a baker who pre-bakes and decorates cakes, enabled rapid vaccine development. Professor Gilbert’s team developed an influenza, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2 vaccine using the same platform, making vaccine development more efficient. With the MERS vaccine’s success, they already knew it was safe and effective before designing the COVID-19 vaccine. Less than two days after the virus’s genetic sequence was made public, they had the vaccine’s exact DNA sequence.

The Risky Approach to Accelerating Vaccine Development

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah and Cath’s teams at Oxford worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine by progressing through the different stages of development “at risk.” This method involved moving on to the next step before testing was finished on the previous one, greatly reducing the timeline but also risking wasted time and funding if unsuccessful. However, the potential benefit of saving lives outweighed the risk, and the approach paid off. Within 65 days from designing the vaccine, they were able to fill vials with the purified vaccine and begin scaling up production.

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