Professor Sir Andrew Pollard (PhD Clinical Medicine 1999) is Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group. Amongst other commitments, he is also presently Chief Investigator for the global clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Professor Pollard has dedicated his career to improving both child and adult health through immunisation. In June 2021, Professor Pollard was made a Knight Bachelor for services to Public Health, particularly during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

We recently had the honour of speaking with Professor Pollard to reflect on his education and experience at Imperial.  

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

During my time at Imperial, I learnt many of the key scientific concepts and methods that I have applied in my career. From ethics applications and clinical research, to a broad range of immunology and molecular laboratory techniques. It was the broadest scientific training and it was invaluable. Perhaps most important were the generous scientists and students I’d meet in the lab, who were willing to help me learn.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

I did a PhD in the Department of Paediatrics studying immunity in children to the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis. This was during the 1990s when there was a large increase in infections due to meningitis C, and the awful disease was feared by all parents.

On the side, I worked in intensive care in the Department of Paediatrics and on the infectious disease wards as a paediatric registrar to supplement my funding and to connect with the underlying importance of research in child health.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

I was fortunate to study in the Department of Paediatrics and work with patients at Imperial with inspiring senior clinicians in the department, including Professor Michael Levin, Professor Simon Kroll, Dr Sam Walters, Dr Gareth Tudor-Williams, Professor Parviz HabibiDr Simon Nadel and a remarkable group of peers including Professor Robert Booy, Dr Hermione Lyall, Professor Nigel Curtis, Professor Beate Kampmann, Professor Steve Webb and briefly Professor Robert Heyderman and Professor Nigel Klein - all of whom have had hugely successful careers over the past 20 years.

Professor Michael Levin remains an inspiration to me in my work now, every day. He taught me a different way of thinking and approach.

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

My fondest memory is of the warmth and supportiveness of the team and individuals I encountered during my time at Imperial.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

I don’t have one favourite place. I spent most of my time in the lab, on the intensive care unit or on the train! It was the students and staff in the Department of Paediatrics who made the experience special.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

I have been Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group for exactly 20 years. My research includes the design, development and clinical evaluation of vaccines including those for typhoid, meningococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcus, plague, pertussis, influenza, rabies, coronavirus and Ebola, and I lead studies using a human challenge model of paratyphoid and typhoid.

I run surveillance for invasive bacterial diseases and study the impact of pneumococcal vaccines in children in Nepal. I lead a project on burden and transmission of typhoid in Nepal, Bangladesh and Malawi, and co-lead typhoid vaccine impact studies at these sites.

I am presently the Chief Investigator for the clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in 24,000 participants in UK, South Africa and Brazil, which has led to authorisation of the vaccine for use in more than 170 countries, with an astonishing 1 billion doses distributed by the end of July 2021.

I also chair the UK Department of Health and Social Care’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and I am a member of the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization. I chaired the European Medicines Agency Scientific Advisory Group on Vaccines for eight years until March 2020.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

Who I am today is deeply grounded in the research, clinical experiences and people who guided me at Imperial.

What have been your career highlights?

I have been so privileged in my career since leaving Imperial to have worked with brilliant and talented researchers and students at Oxford who have worked tirelessly to improve child health through vaccination. Together we have made a difference.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

These are unusual times - there is no typical day when working on developing a vaccine which will be given to more than a billion people. It has been intense; it is a huge responsibility and at times can be relentless, but the work is the same as for other vaccines I have worked on over the past 20 years. The new experience here is the feverish interest in what we are doing by the media. Coming to work seems normal until I look out of the window and realise the whole world has been watching.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue to work on vaccines to improve child health and defend humanity from the threat of infectious diseases.

What would be your advice for prospective and current students?

Throw everything into your scientific training. Your future - and the future of humanity, may depend on it.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

Instead of pride, I feel that it was a huge privilege to have had the experiences I had with the people at Imperial at such an important moment in my personal development.

How would you describe Imperial alumni?

Alumni have a huge responsibility to make best use of their Imperial education and experience.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

The job of a paediatrician is to defend our future.

Where can we find you?

My Twitter name is @ajpollard1