'I've never worked as hard': the Irish-born scientist behind the Oxford Covid vaccine

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Prof Tess Lambe is the principal investigator in the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine team and an associate professor at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford. Photo: University of Oxford
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Vivienne Clarke

The Irish-born professor who co-designed the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has said that she has never worked as hard in her life.

“It has been all hands to the pump, it's been seven days a week and there's been no break. It's been relentless. Luckily it's paid off,” Prof Tess Lambe told RTÉ radio.

“We started on January 10th – that's when I got the email in that helped me co-design a vaccine over the weekend. It was a busy weekend. It's been a busy year, it's been absolutely manic.”

Prof Lambe, who was born in Co Kildare and is an associate professor at the Jenner Institute in the University of Oxford, said it was very important to focus on getting as many vaccines “out there” as one vaccine would not cover the whole world. “We're very excited to be able to contribute in this way.”

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“I think I can speak for the whole team that we're elated that we've got this far this fast and with such an amount of safety and a really good efficacy read out.”

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Prof Lambe said her team was committed to getting up to three billion vaccines ready by next year. “Having a dosing regime where we can halve the first dose is an advantage. So we're actually going to get more bang for our buck.

“I don't see it as a homegrown option, we were very committed from the beginning to get a partner on board, AstraZeneca, that will provide this vaccine at cost during the pandemic to low-to-middle income countries. We're dedicated to getting our vaccine as far around the world as we can in the next year.”

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When asked if the vaccine would be ready to roll out before the end of the year, she said that was not for her to decide, that was up to the Government and Government bodies.

“I've had my head down trying to make a vaccine for the last year or so, those types of policy decisions are not up to me unfortunately.

“I definitely miss my family and my friends from Kildare, truth be told I've been a bad daughter and haven't been in touch with them as much as I should have been, but it has been all hands to the pump, it's been seven days a week and there's been no break. It's been relentless. Luckily it's paid off.

“I've never worked as hard, or been as driven. I'm definitely looking forward to the end of the day when I can have a glass of wine,” she said.

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