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Numbers 290/84: In Praise of AstraZeneca ...and Albert Medal to Oxford!

Sayings of Boris I'm pleased we are spared football analogies from Boris; Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer's Press Briefings regularly have 'shots at goal' and scores, most recently Vaccination XI might well be 3-0 up but must be jolly careful of the Virus XI which could all too readily come thundering back to win 3-4 if we didn't ! Prime Minister Boris has of late been more horticultural: "The crocus of hope is poking through the frost and Spring is on the way literally and metaphorically". And whatever miss-steps or miss-speaks might have occurred since March 23rd 2020 we've really got every hope that we can get ourselves back into action over the next three months - by June 12th. Glad tidings! Today/ tonight is Preparation Eve for schools to return at all levels although Wellingborough is staggering Elliot on Monday and Henry on Wednesday. And with it comes the concomitant return to 'work' howsoever for many a parent. Whilst it can readily be recorded that the youngsters have missed out on all manner of learning and social engagement, parents who've taken on teaching assistant roles will have learnt a thing or two as well. So as ever the key politico-data set remains 'protecting the NHS' which is shorthand for making sure ICUs at our hospitals can cope with demand. The encouraging consequence of successfully getting hospitalisation and subsequent ICU use down is that mortality rates tumble. The unpredicted but exceedingly welcome news lately has been that the vaccine roll out [now over 21,000,000 in the UK and 1,000,000+ second jabs] is dramatically reducing hospitalisation and therefore death amongst all who are being vaccinated just the once to levels not statistically anticipated - especially the oft maligned AstraZeneca vaccine which appears to be outperforming the more expensive Pfizer jabs Avril and I have had. The dire consequences across the EU for its extraordinarily crass response to it are now all too evident. Here in the UK the scientist who led the research team at Oxford to create the vaccine that AstraZeneca is marketing on a not for profit basis across the globe has been awarded the RSA's Albert Medal.

The Albert Medal. The Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) was instituted in 1864 as a memorial to HRH Albert Prince Consort who had been President of the Society for 18 years. It was first awarded to acknowledge individuals, organisation and groups that lead progress and create positive change within contemporary society in areas that are linked closely to the Society's broad agenda. Its first recipient was Sir Rowland Hill 'for his great services to Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, in the creation of the penny postage, and for his other reforms in the postal system of this country, the benefits of which have, however, not been confined to this country, but have extended over the civilised world'. 1865 saw the medal go to The Emperor of the French, Napoleon III, 'for distinguished merit in promoting, in many ways and by his personal exertions, the international progress of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, the proofs of which are afforded by his judicious patronage of Art, his enlightened commercial policy, and especially by the abolition of passports in favour of British subjects'. In 1866 it went to Michael Faraday 'for his discoveries in electricity, magnetism, and chemistry, which in their relation to the industries of the world have so largely promoted Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce'. The 156 names up to and including this year's Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, are a Roll Call of Great Accomplisments. More recently it has gone to scientists to artists and to social campaigners such as Alexander Graham Bell in 1902 for the invention of the telephone, Marie Curie in 1910 for the discovery of radium, Stephen Hawking in 1999 for improving public awareness of physics and Tim Berners-Lee in 2002 for the creation of the World Wide Web.

Sarah Gilbert is the lead researcher on the Oxford vaccine team and Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the vaccine we have all come to enjoy to fight against the novel coronavirus, SARSCoV-2, with approval for its use in many countries around the world. She made the obvious point that whilst it is a great personal honour to receive this award "the creation and the development of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine came after I had worked in this field for many years, learning how to move quickly from a concept to a licensed vaccine which had involved many steps along the way; with a great team at Oxford we have developed a vaccine for the world which is now being used to save lives in many countries, which was our goal from the very beginning".
Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufacture & Commerce was founded by an artist in 1754 - William Shipley. In 1736, aged 21, he inherited 500 and used that money to practice as a painter and drawing master in Northampton where he also joined the Northampton Philosophical Society and began his philanthropic life raising funds to buy fuel for the poor. 14 years later he moved to London and set up a drawing-school, Shipley's Academy which proved highly successful and had many students who went on to become famous artists. From that school came the idea for a Society and he published his proposals which he hoped would make Great Britain a centre for intellectual advancements. The resulting organisation first met at Rawthmell's Coffee House in Covent Garden on 22 March 1754. The society offered premiums for different discoveries and inventions e.g. for the discovery of cobalt and the raising and curing of madder. These were not just frivolous concerns but matters of Britain's most important textile industry; cobalt dyes a brilliant blue and the madder was the principal source of all red dies until the 19th century. The Society was also busy trying to find enough native timber for building ships establishing prizes for the growing of trees such as oaks, chestnuts, elms and firs. Shipley was an inventor in his own right with ideas on providing inexpensive fuel for the poor, a floating light to save those lost in the sea, a way to establish new species of fish in ponds around England, and perhaps strangest of all, a method of lining your shoes with tinfoil to keep them dry. I've had the privilege of being a Fellow for over 40 years and have chaired one of our Public Workshops there on Adam Street - I recall Mathew came with me that day!
Milton church sheds its scaffolding. It's been a long time getting fixed but now the roof and the tower and the clock have been restored to last another 100 years. I recall saying that 25 years ago when the tower was struck by lightning . as pictured next to Sarah Gilbert of course. Avril and I were taking advantage of the afternoon sunshine - it's promised until Tuesday but then nasty storms are coming in from the Atlantic. That's not an oblique reference to the now Hollywood based Duke and Duchess of Sussex whose two hour interview with Oprah Winfrey is being streamed in the US and then here with ITV on Commonwealth Day. Comparions this weekend in the press are suggesting to compare the Sussexes with the late Duke & Duchess of Windsor is to be unfair to the later who exercise restrain in any comments on The Firm to the end of their lives in Paris.

Published Date: March 7th 2021

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