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‘Lots of tears’ when vaccine was produced, scientist says while receiving OBE

Dr Melanie Ivarsson (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Dr Melanie Ivarsson (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A scientist who worked to produce the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has said there were “lots of tears” when her team realised that they had produced an effective jab.

Dr Melanie Ivarsson, who received an OBE from the King at an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle, said the group of researchers she led initially had “no idea” whether the vaccine they created world work.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Dr Ivarsson, chief development officer at Moderna, revealed her team had sprung into action in early 2020, fearing the then-novel coronavirus outbreak in China could develop into a global pandemic.

“As scientists, we realised in January 2020 that a global pandemic was likely to happen,” she said.

“I joined Moderna on February 3 2020, the day that the company decided to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.

“The company had never run a large-scale clinical trial for a vaccine, or ever manufactured or commercialised a single product, so we had to start completely from scratch.

“We had to find a way to produce 10 years’ worth of vaccine development in 10 months.”

“It was an incredible experience. We were working incredibly long hours, seven days a week. There were only 600 people in the entire company but we pulled together to make the impossible happen.

“We’ve gone on to produce not just that first Covid-19 vaccine but also variant vaccines, and have manufactured over a billion doses, which is just incredible for such a small company.

“This just goes to show what we can do as a team when we need to do it.”

Coronavirus – Sat Feb 13, 2021
The Moderna vaccine (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dr Ivarsson recalled the emotional day when the results from Moderna’s vaccine trials were announced.

She said: “The day we got our efficacy results was a Sunday in November, when we presented our clinical data to an independent committee.

“We all dialled in that morning to receive the results, and we really had no idea whether we had made a breakthrough or not, because MRNA technology is completely new.

“When we were told the vaccine was over 94% effective, there were a lot of tears and there was a lot of happiness.”

Dr Ivarsson received her PhD from the University of Bristol. She worked around the clock to lead her company’s clinical trials in Boston, Massachusetts, in the US.

Speaking about her company’s future work on vaccines, Dr Ivarsson said: “The UK has been absolutely incredible in its approach to Covid-19. This is why Moderna has decided to make the UK its second home for research and development, because of its excellent ecosystem.”

“We take our global health mission incredibly seriously, and believe in equity of access,” she added, explaining that not all countries have had full access to coronavirus vaccines yet.

“We are currently working on ways to create a refrigerator-stable version of our vaccine so that it can be deployed in developing countries, where coronavirus jabs are still not yet widely available.

“We also need to be able to increase our manufacturing volume and are reviewing our distribution networks.

“We also have a global health programme where we have committed to tackle the 15 biggest health threats by 2025. That involves developing vaccines against diseases such as malaria and Ebola.”

Dr Ivarsson said she hopes to set an example for future female scientists and researchers across the world.

She added: “I hope that women and girls consider going into science, technology, engineering or maths or into research when they’re thinking about their future careers.

“There is no reason why we can’t be just as successful in these areas, but we need to see other women do it to feel confident.

“I would be very proud if the fact that I received an OBE today inspires women and girls to consider careers in vaccine research.”