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Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, takes a moment to reflect on one billion doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine released worldwide.

Portrait of Sir Andrew Pollard © Credit: University of Oxford, John Cairns

With falling Covid-19 cases all across the UK, the wild positivity in the media, and yesterday’s announcement from AstraZeneca that they have passed 1 billion doses manufactured of our Oxford vaccine, you could be forgiven this week for thinking that it is all over - but it isn’t.

The world is in the third wave of the pandemic with global case numbers of Covid-19 rising rapidly, just not here. I don’t want to sound too gloomy given the remarkable position in which we find ourselves, especially with cases falling because of growing immunity in our population from the vaccines, likely combined with Summer behavioural changes that reduce opportunities for spread.

Here on our highly vaccinated islands, while we shouldn’t be complacent or skittishly intoxicated by optimism, it is reasonable today to be cautiously hopeful. We are in a much better position than at any time in the past 18 months. For those who are vaccinated, the risk of getting seriously ill or dying is now very very low. That link between infections in the community and hospitalisation is weak. The vaccines are doing their stuff.

It is critical to recognise that the virus will continue to spread around the world, and whilst it does, those who are unvaccinated, everywhere, even here, will remain at risk.

In the UK, it is now only a small proportion of adults who remain without the armour provided by vaccination, but in many low-income countries, that is almost everyone. Globally, more than half a million cases and 9,000 deaths will occur today.

While this shows there is still a lot more to do, you may be surprised to hear that the teams behind the vaccine were absolutely fizzing yesterday. Why? Because we crossed an astonishing, uplifting and almost unthinkable milestone. 1 billion doses of our Oxford vaccine have been distributed to over 170 countries through our partnership with AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India.

For the small group of dedicated researchers who worked on the development of the Oxford vaccine, this is a glorious moment to savour in our endeavour to make a vaccine for the world. But we also pay tribute to the bravery, commitment and determination of AstraZeneca to fight against the normal commercial model, in partnership with Oxford University and 20 global manufacturing partners, to get the vaccine out there as quickly as possible, on a not-for-profit model, for the benefit of humanity.

But that is enough celebration for now, while there are many unvaccinated people who are desperately waiting for the next billion doses. We must approach this next milestone with the same passion, commitment and zeal as we have this first.