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13th December 2021

Review: Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus

Emily Prescott

Dr Catherine Green was queueing for pizza during her holiday in Snowdonia  when she overheard a woman saying the people behind the COVID jabs couldn’t be trusted. Dr Green couldn’t let this slide so she introduced herself to  the skeptic: “My name is Cath Green and I might not look like it in my bare feet and this dress – I might not sound like it either, believe me I know – but I am “them”. You couldn’t have known this, but I’m the best person in the world to tell you what’s in the vaccine. I work with the people who invented it. It’s me and my team, in my lab, who physically made it.” 

Overhearing this vaccine scepticism was the catalyst for the book. Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green felt it was their duty to come out of their labs and put the truth into print.  “I would like people to know how we really got here and what happens next,” Green writes. 

This is the most extraordinary story which focuses on the often surprisingly ordinary lives of the women behind the Oxford AstraZenecavaccine. Although it was ghost written,  the chapters alternate between being authored  between Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green. 

It’s hard to work out how these women found the time for this book. Not only are they working parents – Professor Gilbert is a mum of triplets.- they are having to deal with issues such as not being able to buy toilet roll, worrying about vulnerable family members, they are also busy  saving the future of humanity. At one point Green seems to lean into the working mum stereotype as she employs a baking analogy to explain how the vaccine works.  She says making a vaccine for a new disease is a bit like making a specialist birthday cake. You can get everything ready and then when the order arrives you just add the icing with the message or indeed, the spike protein. 

Green in particular talks about the pressure of getting the messaging and explanations right and making sure the public understands what is going on. “I woke up feeling really nervous. Not because it was the day we were going to put the first shot of our vaccine into the arm of our first volunteer in our first trial: I had every confidence that would go smoothly. But because I was due to do a radio interview with LBC’s James O’Brien… I didn’t want to let anyone down by saying anything wrong.”  

At the beginning of the book is a quote from an anonymous source: “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. This epitomises their message, this book is their solution to the anti-vaxxer movement. So forget your comic books, if you’re looking for superheroes you’ll find them standing among us, perhaps even in the queue of a takeaway. 

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