‘Four years’ work in one’: vaccine researchers are the unassuming heroes of Covid-19

We don’t know their names, but these scientists have been working tirelessly to fight the pandemic. It’s time to say thank you

Vaccine researchers are not showy. If there is a flashy vaccine researcher out there, I’ve yet to meet them. Most of them talk about their colleagues more than they talk about themselves. In fact if you ask them about the work they are doing, they will invariably tell you how great their team is. Yet this year, more than ever, they deserve to have the spotlight firmly on them. As we watched the first waves of people getting their first vaccine doses and heard their hopes of finally being able to hug loved ones, it was impossible not to be moved. Yet this moment was only taking place because – while many of us were staying home – vaccine researchers were working tirelessly so they could ride to our rescue, armed with the ultimate weapons against the pandemic.

If this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic, as we all hope, then it’s clear that this has come about through individuals working together for the good of us all. And, make no mistake, these researchers have been working unbelievably hard. One told me they had done the equivalent of four years’ work, in one year. Many people won’t realise that many of them could not just shelve the existing projects they were working on before the Covid-19 pandemic hit — because diseases such as Aids also need vaccines. So, in many cases, these researchers were pulling 14-hour days, in effect doing two jobs. They are working non-stop: skipping meals, not going home, missing family events, dropping hobbies or sacrificing spare time. One researcher told me that the real unsung hero in all of this was her husband, for keeping the family home running – because you cannot make a vaccine without someone cooking you dinner at night and doing your laundry and looking after your kids.

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