Last night, students, parents, staff and guest schools were invited to join us in a panel discussion about the production of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine with scientists who worked on its development. The event was hosted by STEM ambassadors Molly and Annabel, who first approached the guests with the exciting proposal for an insightful Q&A.
The session gave participants the opportunity to probe top scientists with first-hand experience of one of the great medical breakthroughs of the century. Matters discussed included their educational and career backgrounds, challenges in the vaccine’s development, practical matters of funding and how individuals can work to improve education and healthcare spending, in case of similar crises in future.
Scientists Dr Alex Spencer, Dr Wendy Crocker and Merin Thomas commented on the high-pressure time constraints working against a rising death toll, the generous donations that supplemented their otherwise restricted funding, and the unifying aspect of the pandemic that has brought individuals as well as nations together to achieve extraordinary feats.
Other issues raised during the event ranged from enquiries about the vaccine’s efficacy and future impact to questions about the personal experiences of female scientists in their area of work.
When asked about the moment they realised the vaccine would work, Dr Spencer said: “There was relief. The day the efficacy results came I had a quiet tear running down my face.” Miss Thomas added: “We were overwhelmed with emotions. The lack of sleep paid off and it was quite touching to know you were part of a successful team and able to contribute to saving millions of lives.”
It was delightful to be able to welcome such a wide range of other schools to the event. Participating schools included The John Wallis Church of England Academy, Cranbrook School, Claremont Senior School and Sixth Form, Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre, Uplands School, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ashford School, Tonbridge School, Tonbridge Grammar School, Wycombe Abbey and Sutton Valence School.
Head of Science Christian Brady said: “The event was highly anticipated and we had an exceptional response to our invitations, with a huge variety of questions submitted in advance to put to the panel.
“Molly and Annabel were fantastic in chairing the discussion as they posed questions to the scientists which not only explored their work toward the vaccine, but an array of topics including their personal journeys.”