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Indian-origin professional makes it to the Queen’s Honours List

Devina Banerjee, MBE awardee   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“I didn't know it was even possible to get an honour so early in your career ,” says Devina Banerjee. The 25-year-old officer in the British Civil Service recently received the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award for her contributions to the fight against COVID-19. “My team nominated me and it feels very personal to be recognised for your work".

Devina’s roots lie in India; her father, a consultant surgeon is from Kolkata, and her mother, a financial advisor hails from Mahe in South India. Born in London, Devina studied at King's College School and at the University of Cambridge. She joined the Civil Service in 2019 and worked on Brexit-related trade negotiations before volunteering to be part of the Vaccine Task Force, which was formed in May 2020 to streamline the development and distribution of a vaccine programme for the country.

“The mood in the country in May last year, when the VTF was formed, was very dark. I remember feeling a real sense of motivation to contribute as much as I could under those circumstances. We began working at a great pace. We knew that this was very important work and that gave us all a common mission,” she says.

The VTF collaborated with scientists, pharma companies, the private sector, NHS, researchers, senior government officials and ministers to provide a road map to find a vaccine and a vaccination programme. They zeroed in seven vaccines from a list of 200 from all over the world. The challenge was to make quick decisions, says Devina, whose main task was to collate scientific advice for senior government official and ministers. “The U.K. strategy was to invest early in trialling and manufacturing vaccines simultaneously and not wait for the usual step-by-step development process. There was a risk of failure for each vaccine but it was worth taking.”

Devina was inspired by her compatriot Divya Chadha Manek, director of business development and marketing at the U.K.’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Divya was also part of the VTF and has been honoured with an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Honours List, 2021. The Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2021 includes those who have worked throughout the health crisis, placing others before themselves and helped in national recovery. Nominations were announced on June 12, the Queen’s official birthday.

Devina has moved now to work on a climate-change solution — Carbon Capture and Storage Technology — that will help reduce CO2 emissions. “I am taking my experience to work in the field of climate change. I hope a collaborative effort similar to that in VTF can be formed to address the climate emergency.”

While she has been flooded with congratulatory messages, Devina treasures that she has been able to make her father, Dr Dibyeshwar Banerjee, who has himself saved many patient lives, very proud.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 5:57:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/devina-banerjee-mbe-uk-covid-19-vaccine-task-force/article34902804.ece

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