Vaccine creator Professor Sarah Gilbert delivers Rosalind Franklin Lecture to thousands

5 March, 2021

Samira Ahmed virtually presents the Rosalind Franklin Medal to Professor Sarah Gilbert, via Zoom.
Samira Ahmed presents the Rosalind Franklin Medal to Professor Sarah Gilbert

Professor Sarah Gilbert, Oxford Project Leader of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine tonight delivered the Rosalind Franklin Lecture 2021, ‘Racing against the virus’ in an event viewed by around 2,000 people worldwide and chaired by multi-award-winning journalist Samira Ahmed.

Sarah’s lecture delivered a brief history of the science of vaccination, before recounting the astonishing progress of the last year, and the deft speed and rigour which brought about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has since contributed to the vaccination of more than 21 million people across the UK.

Prof. Sarah Gilbert with her Rosalind Franklin Medal, standing in front of a statue of Edward Jenner at the Jenner Institute.
Prof. Sarah Gilbert with her Rosalind Franklin Medal.

Following the lecture and an expansive question and answer session, Samira ‘virtually’ awarded Sarah with the Humanists UK Rosalind Franklin Medal, for her careful, diligent, and life-saving work in creating the vaccine, and her ongoing public science communication work.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘When Rosalind Franklin discovered the structure of DNA in 1952, she could scarcely have foreseen that almost seventy years later, her work and the work that came after her would be used to save potentially tens of millions of lives from the effects of a pandemic. Sarah Gilbert is one of those who have helped to do so. All of us at Humanists UK and I’m sure across the country feel a profound gratitude to her, and marvel at the application of science and human ingenuity to this most inhuman problem.’

The Rosalind Franklin Lecture was recorded as is now available to watch on YouTube.


About Professor Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) at the University of Oxford. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of East Anglia and her doctoral degree at the University of Hull. Following four years as a research scientist at the biopharmaceutical company Delta Biotechnology she joined Oxford University in 1994 and became part of the Jenner Institute (within NDM) when it was founded in 2005. Her chief research interest is the development of viral-vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T and B cell responses.

She works on vaccines for many different emerging pathogens, including influenza, Nipah, MERS, Lassa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, and SARS-CoV-2. Working with colleagues in the Jenner Institute research labs, the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility and Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, all situated on the Old Road Campus in Oxford, she is able to take novel vaccines from design to clinical development, with a particular interest in the rapid transfer of vaccines into manufacturing and first in human trials. She is the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a promising vaccine against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which has since been used to vaccinate millions of British adults in the first weeks of the national vaccine rollout.

About Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster with a special focus on culture, politics, and social change. She won Audio Broadcaster of the Year at the 2020 British Press Guild Awards for her work as a presenter of Front Row on Radio 4 and her podcast How I Found My Voice.

About the Rosalind Franklin Lecture series

Marking International Women’s Day, this explores and celebrates the contribution of women towards the promotion and advancement of aspects of humanism in the UK and around the world. The Rosalind Franklin medallist has made a significant contribution in one of these fields.

The lecture and medal are named for Rosalind Franklin, humanist and scientist, whose contribution to science for many years went unacknowledged on account of her sex but who is today rightly celebrated.

About Humanists UK

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.