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Corona: "The race for the vaccine" – Arte is looking for clues

Informative and exciting: film teams from the BBC and CNN followed the development of an anti-Covid vaccine with the camera from the start.

Over four million people of all ages have died worldwide as a result of being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Ascending trend. A vaccination prevents an infection, and should this happen, it slows down the course of any disease considerably. On the other hand, it is reported from the USA that over 99 percent of Covid deaths have not been vaccinated recently.

There are also vaccine skeptics in Germany. Excluding zealots and profiteers, rather people who are not comfortable with the speed of vaccine development. The documentary “Corona: The Race for the Vaccine”, a joint production by the BBC and CNN Films with Arte France – all of them well-known names – comes at the right time.

Directed by Catherine Gale (also production) and Caleb Hellerman and their teams have accompanied the development of the corona vaccines – as is well known, there are several modes of action – from the beginning. The ninety-minute film on Arte clears up misunderstandings, rumors and errors.

“Corona: The race for the vaccine” (Arte): Research begins in pajamas

It starts with a brief summary of the events that led to the discovery of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from the group of corona viruses. With Dr. George Fu Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, was a contemporary witness from the very beginning who not only recognized the danger posed by the virus at an early stage and made the data internationally accessible, but was also involved in the development of the Chinese vaccine. A stroke of luck for the film team from “Corona: The Race for the Vaccine”: His first sighting of a picture of the virus on the computer was accidentally recorded by surveillance cameras.

The decryption of the virus, which was carried out very quickly thanks to state-of-the-art processes, was the starting signal for the search for a vaccine. The film authors document the scientific endeavors in the USA, Great Britain, Australia, China, Germany, where the Mainz-based company Biontech entered into a cooperation with the US company Pfizer and a Chinese partner. The Professor Teresa Lambe, who works at the University of Oxford, reports in Arte Production that she jumped into the new task in her pajamas the morning after the virus sequence was published on January 10, 2020.

Dr. Selorm Avumegah bei der Arbeit im Labor der University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australien.


Dr. Selorm Avumegah at work in the University of Queensland laboratory in Brisbane, Australia.

“Corona: The race for the vaccine” on Arte: The professor sleeps standing

At this point it becomes clear why the vaccines could be brought to operational readiness faster than before. All virologists involved had already worked in the field. To put it in a flowery way: The rocket was ready to be launched on the ramp. You just had to enter the destination.

Various methods were investigated in the various research institutes. One can instigate the human body to fight the invading virus itself, or attack the virus directly. The filmmakers from the BBC, CNN and Arte do an excellent job of making the not uncomplicated biological processes clear to laypeople.

In the Arte film “Corona: The Race for the Vaccine”, the scientists become the main characters of an exciting story. Setbacks are in the nature of things, and unplanned interruptions also find their way into the film. Likewise disappointments, exhaustion, fears. Fatigue too. The Australian molecular biologist Keith Chappell is kept awake by the fear of making mistakes, his Chinese colleague Wu Guizzen, under political pressure, sometimes sleeps standing up, Professor Katie Ewer in Oxford hardly gets to see her children. During the filming, her mother dies of the consequences of the corona infection. Overtime, weekend work and exhaustion put a strain on everyone involved. The greater the joy when the longed-for news arrives that the painstakingly manufactured and repeatedly tested product works as hoped – or even better.

Professor Keith Chappell ist molekularer Virologe an der University of Queensland. Seine Forschung konzentriert sich auf die Entwicklung von Impfstoffen und das Verständnis von medizinisch und ökologisch bedeutsamen Viren.


Professor Keith Chappell is a molecular virologist at the University of Queensland. His research focuses on vaccine development and understanding of medically and environmentally significant viruses.

Other participants also have their say in the film “Corona: The Race for the Vaccine” on Arte, for example the science journalist Ian Haydon from Seattle, who made himself available as a test person and recorded his experiences with the camera.

Interviews with the scientists, including Kizzmekia Corbett from the National Institute of Health in the USA, a recognized expert on corona viruses who went to the press to advertise the vaccination in general and as an African-American woman, especially among blacks, are repeatedly faded in.

BBC, CNN and Arte: “Corona: The race for the vaccine” – warning of negligent behavior

Virologists are not magicians; the creation of the vaccine was not hocus-pocus, but a coherent and understandable process. Scientific practices guarantee the care taken before the release. Research results are published in specialist journals with qualified editors. These periodicals are not opinion sheets, but only publish verifiable data obtained using scientific methods.

There are control procedures, mutual exchange. Pfizer tested the Biontech / Pfizer vaccine in 150 study centers on five continents. Another factor that contributed to the vaccine’s rapid production readiness.

“Corona: The race for the vaccine”, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 8:15 pm, Arte

“Corona: The race for the vaccine” (Arte) is very topical. Statistics from June and the most recent mutations of the virus could still be taken into account. The scientists continue their research and expressly warn against negligent behavior, because viruses are survivors and react to changed conditions. “The work continues,” says British professor Teresa Lambe.

A highly recommended film, also suitable for use in the classroom, if one disregards the linguistic faux pas “slowed down” in the translation of an explanation by Teresa Lambe – here incorrectly used as a synonym for “brake”. Also something the spread of which should be curbed. (Harald Keller)

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