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Women who've paved the way during COVID

Women have always had to fight for positions that men would get more easily. Still, throughout history, women have been crucial to the development of science, law, politics, medicine and business. During the pandemic, women have been just as imperative to overcoming the virus. This list highlights only a few women; it is not at all complete. However, here, these women represent women all across the globe fighting for their rights and to make the world a better place. This month, it is important to highlight the women who have paved the way for a better life, but also to help those still struggling to have their voices be heard and to recognize women’s accomplishments everywhere. Here is a brief list of women’s brilliance during these difficult times who have helped people’s lives everywhere.

Melissa Moore

Since last March, a yearning for vaccines overcame most of the world. Behind the struggle to find a successful immunization was Melissa Moore, Moderna’s chief scientific officer. Melissa Moore is, according to herself and others, the world's expert on mRNA, a critical molecule that sends the genetic instruction from DNA to create an immune response. Without her knowledge, Moderna would not have been able to create a vaccine that has already saved so many lives. Melissa Moore is an icon for young women looking to pursue sciences, showing that gender is not a barrier to pursuing scientific careers.

Professor Sarah Gilbert

The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is groundbreaking not only as a vaccine for COVID-19, but also because unlike Moderna’s vaccine, it can be kept in regular fridges. This vaccine is more easily administered to remote locations, therefore helping vulnerable communities. Already, the UK has ordered 100 million doses of this vaccine. This vaccine would not have been possible without the hard work of Professor Sarah Gilbert, the lead researcher in the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial. She is a mother of triplets, which some may see as a setback detrimental to a career, or a reason that women shouldn’t be scientists. This, though, did not stop Professor Sarah Gilbert. She endured sleepless nights this year when researching, and was also influential to her colleagues, as she stayed positive throughout the development process. Professor Sarah Gilbert shows that being a mother does not mean that your career has ended, and that with hard work, perseverance and positivity, anything can be achieved.

Li Lanjuan

In the early days of the pandemic, little was known about this new virus. Li Lanjuan was one of the first doctor’s to witness the virus and to impose a lockdown. It was in early 2020 in Wuhan when Li Linjuan put the coyote of 11 million into lockdown, and with this, she saved an unbelievable number of people. She understood the gravity of the situation, even when leaders elsewhere were downplaying the severity. Commending Linjuan’s efforts, epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre at the University of New south Wales in Sydney, Australia says, “[her plan] clearly led to excellent epidemic control within China and aversion of a far more catastrophic epidemic in the country.” While she was originally sent to Wuhan by China’s highest administrative body, she stayed, caring for those who became infected by COVID-19. Through this, she became a symbol for selflessness of front line workers.

Jacinda Ardern

Those who say that women cannot be leaders are being proved absolutely wrong by Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. With many countries struggling to control outbreaks, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ardern, New Zealand became a model for controlling outbreaks. Prime Minister Arden’s motto consisted of the simple words “go hard and go early”, and with this, she created a country where there is no no community spread of the virus and people are no longer required to socially distance or wear masks. Listening to scientists has proven to be key to effective responses, and Ardern was aware of this. Biochemist Juliet Gerrard, the prime minister’s chief science adviser, appreciated her efforts to understand science. “That depth of understanding enabled her to communicate very complex and changing evidence,” reported Gerrard. Prime Minister Ardern has not only been a saviour for her country, but she has inspired girls worldwide, showing them that women can be in positions of power and that in these positions they can be just as successful, or even more successful, than men.

Doctor Özlem Türeci

Only a few months ago, BioNTech was not very well known. Doctor, scientist and entrepreneur Dr Özlem Türeci, the chief medical officer of BioNTech, instantly responded to the call for a vaccine. BioNTech had been working with Pfizer on a flu vaccine, and as soon as March 2020 they began to collaborate on a vaccine for COVID-19. This vaccine, headed by the efforts of Dr Özlem Türeci, became the first widely approved vaccine and has up to a 95% efficacy rate. Dr Özlem Türeci has shown that a woman should never be held back, and is a role model for women worldwide.

On International Women’s Day, it is important to highlight these women’s achievements to show women around the world that anything is possible. Year round, though, women struggle to be given the same opportunities as men, and everyone must play their part to combat sexism and misogyny worldwide. These women have stopped at nothing to share their knowledge with the world, and without them, we would not be where we are today. Hopefully this year more women are given opportunities to display their intelligence, and that next year, there are more women being celebrated.

Written by: Sophie Block

Illustrated by: Urvi Agarwal


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