Pandemic heroes recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours list – and those who weren’t

Britain’s Covid vaccine pioneers are recognised for their “extraordinary efforts” in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list on Saturday.

Kate Bingham, the venture capitalist whom Boris Johnson tapped to lead the UK’s vaccines taskforce, is awarded a damehood.

And Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the top brains behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine also becomes a dame.

Her colleagues, Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and Professor Peter Horby, joint chief investigator for the Recovery trial searching for coronavirus treatments, are both knighted for their services to public health and medical research respectively.

Ms Bingham said she was “humbled” to be recognised in a year when NHS workers have “risked their health and their lives in fighting Covid”.

“The development of vaccines has been a triumph of scientific and industrial collaboration,” she said.

“Just a year ago we were assembling an unproven portfolio of vaccines for the UK.

a man and a woman standing in front of a window: John and sister Amanda fed NHS staff© PA John and sister Amanda fed NHS staff

“Yet in the last six months nearly 70 million vaccine doses have provided unprecedented protection and saved thousands of lives.”

As well as prominent scientists, everyday Covid heroes are among the 23% of recipients whose recognition is linked to the pandemic.

Among them are brother and sister John Brownhill, 54 and Amanda Guest, 58, co-founders of Food4Heroes which delivered more than 200,000 meals from local chefs to NHS frontline staff, and are handed British Empire Medals.

And 25-year-old entrepreneur Rhys Mallows, who repurposed his Welsh whisky bottling business to produce hand sanitiser, also gets a British Empire Medal.

He said: “When you see that need in your community … it all becomes very real and it comes to home really that if you’ve got the ability to actually make a difference, when very few can … then I think you have to make that decision.”

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera© PA

But Chris Whitty – who many expected to be up for a gong for his work as Chief Medical Officer – is absent from the list, with officials considering it to be too early for some figures still at the forefront of the pandemic response to be considered.

Of the 1,129 people receiving an award, 50% of the total are women, and 15% come from an ethnic minority background.

17.3% of recipients considered themselves to come from a lower socio-economic background.

Meanwhile, the owner of Cambridge taxi firm, CamCab, Rowhi Mahmoud Nemer,

63, is made an MBE for community service after he offered free rides to NHS staff during the first national lockdown.

And Daksha Varsani, 49, is honoured with a BEM recognising the work of the community response kitchen she founded with her partner in Wembley.

a woman wearing a blue shirt: Divya Chadha Manek is honoured with an OBE© PA Divya Chadha Manek is honoured with an OBE

Since April last year, they have served more than 200,000 vegetarian Indian meals to NHS staff and vulnerable people in the capital, while Ms Varsani also oversaw the delivery of more than 85,000 care packages and food deliveries.

Elsewhere on the list, a student who launched a campaign to provide free period products at schools aged just 17 said she was humbled by her MBE.

But Amika George, now 21, said she had to think twice before accepting the gong.

Boris Johnson wearing a suit and tie: The PM paid tribute to recipients© PA The PM paid tribute to recipients

Her campaign to tackle period poverty, where young people have to miss out on school because they do not have sanitary products, was sparked because she was “shocked it was something that anyone had to face in the UK”.

“It wasn’t an obvious decision to accept it,” she added.

“I did feel quite uncomfortable in accepting an award that would make me a Member of the British Empire.

“It was a horrific and exploitative endeavour, and I think there is a real lack of awareness around the history of that.

“When I got that email I was thrown into a bit of self-reflection where I asked myself ‘do I want this tied to my name?’”

She said she had finally decided to accept the award, “to draw attention to our lack of education around empire and Britain’s history, but also to show other young people, particularly from the Asian community, who maybe don’t feel very empowered politically or don’t feel seen.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The Queen’s Birthday Honours allow us to pay tribute to all those who have gone above and beyond in their service to this country.

“Throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of every day heroes. From those using their expertise to help develop life-saving vaccines, which are now being rolled out successfully to all parts of the UK, to the people who have given time and energy to care for their communities.

“We should take heart from the stories of those receiving honours today and be inspired by their courage and kindness. May they be a reminder of all that we can achieve when we come together as a society.”



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