Sir John Bell

Sir John Bell (GBE, FRS, FMedSci) is the Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford. As the leading expert in immunology, Sir John has been at the centre of the fight against coronavirus. He is a member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), he sits on the government’s vaccine task force, and has negotiated the purchase of various vaccines. He is also a senior member of Oxford University Boat Club and has informed the Boat Race Company Limited’s decision making over the last twelve months.

“This year’s Boat Race will be exceptional in many ways, not least because it will be rowed as we emerge from a pandemic on the course at Ely. It marks the end of a very hard year for the Clubs but one where many organisations made the right call in very difficult circumstances. The first call was to cancel the race last year. BRCL got that exactly right and although it was a hard decision making it early proved to be the right answer. The Clubs have done exceptionally well to keep the athletes engaged through the disruption and even with a multitude of reasons not to proceed this year the Clubs have persevered and despite the uncertainty, BRCL and the Clubs seem to have made the right call.

When this pandemic arrived we knew very little about what to expect except that there would be trouble for some time to come. Understanding a new pathogen well enough to make good decisions about how to manage it has not been easy but these two great Universities have provided remarkable contributions to the UK and global fight against the virus. The quality of the science in the Universities has allowed us to develop the UK’s own vaccine which is now at the forefront of taming the epidemic in the UK and will be the vaccine that more than any other saves the world. Similarly, the testing program has been underpinned by novel approaches pioneered by both institutions, modelling has been led by both and the core epidemiology and clinical trial platform has also come from us. Not everything has gone to plan in this pandemic, but the science response has been exceptional.

When asked by Sarah Montague on the BBC in November after we announced the vaccine data, whether we would be returning to normal by the spring, I predicted ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’. What I really was thinking was that we would have a Boat Race again this year and my prediction has turned out to be pretty accurate. There will be some more bumps on the road, but this event is a tell-tale sign that normality is returning.”