COVID-19 vaccine pioneer awarded Freedom of the City of London

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who initiated and led the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in 2020, has received the Freedom of the City of London, in recognition of her outstanding achievements in, and contribution to, science and public health.

One of the first vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 to be approved in the UK, it has been used in over 180 countries and is estimated to have saved more than six million lives worldwide.

In 2021, Professor Gilbert was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire, in recognition of her work during the pandemic, while her book, Vaxxers, which described the development of the Vaxzevria, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Based at Oxford University’s Pandemic Sciences Institute, Professor Gilbert is currently leading vaccine development for influenza and several emerging pathogens.

Professor Gilbert, who was nominated for the Freedom by Lord Mayor Nicholas Lyons and former Lord Mayor, Sir David Wootton, attended her ceremony at Guildhall today, accompanied by family members, friends, and colleagues.

Speaking before today’s ceremony, Lord Mayor Nicholas Lyons said:

“Over the course of one’s life, you meet or hear about many thousands of people – and some people stand out – and Sarah Gilbert is one such person, and someone to whom we owe an incalculable debt of gratitude.

“As COVID began to take hold in this country and around the world, Sarah and her colleagues worked tirelessly to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and today, it was our privilege to award her the Freedom and thank her for her incredible work.”

Sir David Wootton said:

“The award of the Freedom of the City of London can be offered in order to recognise an extraordinary achievement, and to be credited with helping save over six million lives is a truly extraordinary achievement.

“Professor Gilbert’s Freedom today is the City of London Corporation’s way of expressing our admiration for her and her team of scientists - not to say, miracle workers - for their commitment, ingenuity, and sheer hard work.”

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert said:

“I am honoured to receive the Freedom of the City of London. This award recognises my work to develop an effective, affordable vaccine against COVID-19 that has now saved more than six million lives worldwide. 

“The vaccine’s development was only made possible because of the dedication and expertise of a huge team at the University of Oxford and our research partners around the world.

“It is a privilege to celebrate today with some of my colleagues from the Pandemic Sciences Institute in Oxford, which is now working to protect us all from future pandemic threats.”

One of the City of London’s ancient traditions, the Freedom is believed to have begun in 1237 and enabled recipients to carry out their trade.

As well as being nominated for, or applying for, the Freedom, it is also offered by the City of London Corporation to individuals as a way of paying tribute to their outstanding contribution to London or public life, or to celebrate a very significant achievement.

Recent high-profile recipients include singer-songwriter, Ed Sheeran; former England football captain and Tottenham Hotspur striker, Harry Kane; theatrical impresario, Sir Cameron Mackintosh; and LGBTQ+ activist and London Night Czar, Amy Lamé.


About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally successful UK –