Today we particularly celebrate those involved in making health data available for life-saving research, and those who have used that data to generate insights into this disease, including knowledge that has informed public health policy and the clinical care of patients. There are many, many women who fit this description and support the research response to COVID-19 in other ways, but we hope this list will prompt others to celebrate the many other women who have made, and continue to make, vital contributions to the world’s response to this pandemic.

Tracking and modelling the pandemic to inform public health policy

Sequencing the virus, tracking cases and identifying communities at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 have been essential elements of our response the pandemic. We recognise and celebrate the role these women have played in that:

Sharon Peacock is the Executive Director and Chair of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which has rapidly sequenced over half of the world’s virus samples, generating data for Public Health Agencies, facilitating research on viral transmission and identifying mutations of the virus. Sharon advises government as part of SAGE as well as her membership on various SAGE sub-groups: the Public Health England Serology Working Group and Hospital Onset COVID-19 Working Group. Hear from Sharon herself on the work she leads on COVID-19 in this video.

Rosalind Eggo is a HDR UK Research and Innovation Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and part of HDR UK’s Public Health National Priority team. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roz has worked extensively on modelling interventions and transmission of this virus in the UK and internationally. Roz has gone over and above to communicate science to various audiences, including a House of Lords committee into the possible transmission of coronavirus amongst children, numerous news reports to communicate health data research in COVID-19 (e.g. news 4) and one of HDR UK’s very own institutional bimonthly webinars. Roz continues to contribute to three SAGE sub-groups: Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), Children’s Task and Finish Working Group and the Ethnicity Subgroup.

Gwenetta Curry is Lecturer of Race, Ethnicity, and Health in the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh. Gwenetta uncovered racial disparities in treatment and infection rates of COVID-19, as she and others reported in the UNCOVER COVID-19 Evidence review “What is the Evidence on Ethnic Variation on Covid-19 Incidence and Outcomes,” and “Sharpening the global focus on ethnicity and race in the time of COVID-19”. She is a member of The Royal Society’s Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) initiative, which supports a data-driven approach to learning from the different approaches countries are taking to managing the pandemic.

Finding effective treatments and vaccines

Thanks to the efforts of many women scientists, treatments and vaccines are now available for COVID-19. This could only have been achieved through a monumental team effort – including the roles that these women are playing:

Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford, has been making and testing vaccines designed to induce T cell responses for over ten years. Within days of the first genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 being published in China, Sarah and her team had designed the first vaccine. A matter of months later, this vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, has now been administered to tens of thousands of people around the world. Hear more about the story of Sarah’s involvement in this BBC documentary.

Marion Mafham is a Clinical Research Fellow and Honorary Consultant Nephrologist at the Oxford Kidney Unit and part of HDR UK’s Clinical Trials National Priority and NHS Digitrials teams. Marion leads the data linkage team for the UK’s landmark Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial. This is the world’s largest clinical trial investigating effective treatments for COVID-19 trial, and has delivered important results, including that dexamethasone reduces death in hospitalised patients by a third, saving thousands of lives worldwide. Read Marion’s account of the RECOVERY trial here.

Making health data available and useable for research

Research is only as good as the health data available that enables it. Making health data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (the FAIR principles) in as near real-time as possible, is critical for research to be translated into patient care and public health policy in time to save lives from COVID-19:

Alison Pritchard is Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Data Capability at the Office for National Statistics. Alison has been instrumental in the Office for National Statistics’ response to the second wave of the pandemic, including a leading role in enabling the UK to use health data and research to inform both our near and long-term responses to COVID-19, as well as accelerating progress to establish a world-leading health data and research infrastructure for the future.

Liz Sapey is Director of PIONEER (the health data research hub for acute care) and Reader in Acute and Respiratory Medicine at University of Birmingham. She has continued to work on the intensive care unit for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust delivering frontline care, whilst leading PIONEER, which provides high quality and timely acute care health data for COVID-19 research. Liz also plays a key role in DECOVID – an initiative that uses artificial intelligence methods to support doctors to provide better care for COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

Vasiliki Panagi, University of Nottingham, works as part of the software development team for a HDR UK project called CO-CONNECT, that helps scientists across the UK to access the data they need more easily to help develop potential therapies and treatment for COVID-19. Vasiliki develops software tools which help to automatically standardise health data from a variety of sources into a streamlined, automated infrastructure, providing the latest data and at the scale required to give definitive answers to some of the most significant questions.

Data and connectivity: providing data for the UK’s national core COVID-19 studies

The Data and Connectivity programme – led by HDR UK – accelerates the approach to answering key research questions by enabling streamlined data access and analysis. It brings together key assets of the UK data infrastructure by working in partnership with stakeholders from across the four nations to organise medical, biological and social science data on an unprecedented scale.  The programme underpins five other programmes, two of which are led by Nishi Chaturvedi and Divya Chadha Manek:

Nishi Chaturvedi, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, University College London, is leading the nation’s health data research approach to understanding longitudinal health and wellbeing – using data from longitudinal studies to address the impact of COVID-19 and of associated viral suppression measures on health and wealth to inform mitigating strategies. Divya Chadha Manek, Head of Business Development, Vaccines Task Force, is leading the nation’s health data research approach to developing clinical trials infrastructure to accelerate delivery of large scale COVID-19 trials for drugs and vaccines.

Women leading the 12 urgent projects

A team of women are leading a group of urgent studies to accelerate use of data for vital COVID-19 research, on behalf of HDR UK, the Office for National Statistics and UKRI. These include the work of:

  • Rachel Denholm, an epidemiologist and health service researcher at Bristol Medical School – answering important questions on transmission, such as how common COVID-19 re-infection is and whether COVID-19 outcomes differ for those with and without symptoms.
  • Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, – one aspect of her research is investigating long COVID – when the symptoms of COVID-19 last for several weeks or months.
  • Irene Higginson, Executive Dean and Vice Dean for Research (Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care) and Director of Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London – rapidly evaluating how end of life care is managed and delivered across the UK for COVID-19 patients.
  • Julia Hippisley-Cox, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice at the University of Oxford – assessing the uptake and comparative safety of new COVID vaccines by age, sex, region, ethnicity, comorbidities, medication, deprivation, risk level and evidence of prior COVID infection.
  • Tracey Warren, sociologist of work and employment with expertise in social inequalities in work at the University of Nottingham – exploring how COVID-19 is impacting the working lives of people in the UK.

Women from around the world

Agnes Binagwaho is a Rwandan pediatrician and Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity. Agnes also co-chairs the Scientific and Strategic Advisory Committee of the International COVID Data Alliance, providing strategic advice for this initiative, which is promoting the opportunity for the world to come together in solidarity and use reliable data to find solutions to the crisis that we are facing.

Kizzmekia Corbett is an American viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center, Bethesda, Maryland, where she is currently the scientific lead of the COVID-19 team. Kizzy was central to the development of the Moderna mRNA vaccine and the Eli Lilly therapeutic monoclonal antibody that were first to enter clinical trials in the US.

Building on the shoulders of giants

The finale must be dedicated to June Almeida (5 October 1930 – 1 December 2007) – June was a Scottish virologist, a pioneer in virus imaging, identification, and diagnosis – her skills in electron microscopy earned her an international reputation. June succeeded in identifying viruses that were previously unknown, including a group of viruses that we now know too well as coronavirus. Her story is told here.

Please call out your own women of COVID-19 today, as we celebrate the past, present and likely future achievements of female researchers and innovators around the world in health data science and beyond.