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Vaccine expert Professor Sir Andrew Pollard discusses Covid-19 vaccination at Queen Mary event

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, a Queen Mary alumnus who leads the team responsible for developing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, spoke at the latest Alumni Angles series.

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In a wide-ranging session, Professor Pollard opened by describing the early days of the pandemic, and the enormous pressure on his team knowing that if they were slow there would be thousands of extra deaths on a daily basis. Commenting on the reasons why his team were able to move so quickly, Professor Pollard said that in addition to already having the platform technologies ready to go, the team were fortunate that coronaviruses were already on their radar, and they knew how to make a vaccine. He added: “There are lots of viruses out there we don’t have data on that would have put us in a different position.”

Professor Pollard also elaborated on the process of the vaccine’s development and its timelines. Discussing the UK’s collaboration, he said: “One of the reasons the UK has produced more of the science is we have a clinical research network. And partnerships across the world were vital for distribution.” Elaborating on this, he highlighted that across the world we need to learn how to share vaccines better to ensure those in poorer regions were not left behind during a global crisis.

The talk also featured reflection on the lessons learned, and specifically the aspects that the team might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. One notable change that Professor Pollard raised was running bigger clinical trials, emphasizing that with bigger trials research teams can get much-needed answers faster. The challenge of manufacturing capacity was also raised, with Professor Pollard conceding that it is a difficult balancing act: “A challenge for the future is dealing with the manufacturing capacity you need during a pandemic, but not necessarily when there isn’t one.” He also noted the clear difficulties with manufacturing at scale, and that increased capability and capacity is needed for the future, especially in the African region.

Audience members were given the opportunity to put their questions to the Professor during an engaging Q&A session at the conclusion of the event. Topics covered ranged from vaccine misinformation to the possibility of the virus evolving beyond current vaccines, as well as the possibility of future vaccinations for Covid-19 specifically.

About Professor Pollard

Professor Pollard qualified from St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in 1989. He is Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Oxford and an Honorary Consultant Paediatrician at Oxford Children’s Hospital.

He was Chief Investigator for the clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in 2020, which led to the authorisation of the vaccine for use in more than 175 countries with over 2.5 billion doses distributed by the end of 2021. In the Queen's Birthday Honours List 2021, he received a knighthood for services to public health, particularly during the pandemic.

Outside of his work related to Covid-19, Professor Pollard’s research includes the design, development and clinical evaluation of vaccines in the UK, Asia, Africa and Latin America. This includes those for typhoid, plague, influenza, rabies, and Ebola to name but a few.

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