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Professor Adrian Hill on Covid-19 vaccines

On 18 May 2021 Belvedere College Union organised a Zoom webinar with Professor Adrian Hill who is instrumental for his role in developing the Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine. In conversation with last year’s Union President John Darby, Professor Hill discussed his time in Belvedere, his work at the Jenner institute at the University of Oxford and how you develop and produce a vaccine in a global pandemic.

Professor Hill noted that Belvedere College SJ was an “extraordinary place” during his 10 years there as a student. He commented on the wonderful mix of staff members including Fr Noel Barber SJ, Mr Gerry Haugh and Fr Peter McVerry SJ.

He appreciated the many opportunities and activities including the chance to play in the Junior Cup rugby final, chess competitions, and school trips. He left the Jesuit school in 1976 and went on to study medicine at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford.

Professor Hill’s post graduate research developed vaccines against malaria and ebola, and in 2005 he was appointed director of the Jenner Institute which focuses on designing and developing vaccines for infectious diseases prevalent in developing countries.

Professor Hill said that he has been researching malaria for 30 years and is the coordinator of a team to develop a vaccine. He said that they finally have one that works which is currently in phase three of development. He pointed out that he is motivated by his anger with the inequality in the world and his wish to work for the poor.

Recently Professor Hill has been at the forefront of the development of a Covid-19 vaccine which has been developed with Astra Zeneca. He described his work on developing the vaccine with 300 others at the Jenner Institute. He spoke about the challenges of testing the vaccine, ensuring it was safe and effective and scaling up to produce 10 billion doses in a year.

Professor Hill pointed out that the Astra Zeneca vaccine, sold at cost price, is now available in 168 countries. He discussed the four types of vaccines that he says are “all effective against serious disease”. He also discussed the main Covid-19 variants and said that he was “pretty optimistic” that they won’t be “cataclysmic”.

Professor Hill discussed a number of other issues including vaccine uptake, vaccination into the future and keeping immunity up, consistency of regulators and lack of consistency of advisory groups. Speaking about a collective challenge, he said:

“We do do defense, we just don’t do biodefense very well… We do need biodefense and we know how to do it. We just need to get on with it.”

Furthermore, Professor Hill responded to many of the audience’s questions. They included lessons learned due to a lack of response to global threats, developing other vaccines such as for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and a more equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Darragh Lynch, outgoing Belvedere Union President, welcomed Professor Hill to the webinar. Reflecting on the event, he said:

“It is very impressive to hear Adrian talking about the issues he has been dealing with during the pandemic. He has a calm focus not only on the science and the industry of producing a vaccine, but he is also focused on the most vulnerable and how their needs are to be met. He is a good guy to have around in a global pandemic.”

John Doyle, incoming Belvedere Union President, commented:

“John Darby’s adept interview with Adrian Hill was a fascinating insight into the invaluable work done by Adrian who, in addition to his incredible contribution to humanity with his work on the vaccine, is a wonderful communicator. All in all, a wonderful event.”