Dame Sarah Gilbert barbie doll: why the Covid vaccinologist and Oxford professor is being honoured with a doll

Toy maker Mattel has released several new ‘role model’ barbies to pay tribute to women in the Covid-19 fight

Barbie has created a doll in honour of one of the scientists who helped to create the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert.

Toy company Mattel hopes the new doll will inspire more young girls to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

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Dame Sarah has been honoured for her work on the Oxford Covid vaccine (Photo: PA)

A ‘Barbie role model’

Vaccinologist Dame Sarah, who was recognised with a damehood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, began work on a coronavirus vaccine early last year when the virus first emerged in China.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is now the most widely used jab against Covid-19 in the world, with doses sent to more than 170 different countries.

The new Barbie doll has been created in recognition of Dame Sarah’s work at the University of Oxford and for her role as project leader in the development of the life-saving vaccine.

While she initially found the gesture “very strange”, the vaccinologist said she hoped it would inspire young girls to get into STEM careers.

She said: “I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into STEM careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realise how vital careers in science are to help the world around us.

“My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist.”

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Diversifying the Barbie range

Toymaker Mattel has responded to criticism in recent years that its Barbie collection depicts an unrealistic image of womanhood, with the company creating dolls themed around careers including firefighters, doctors and astronauts.

It also now has a range of dolls with different skin tones, expanding on its original white doll with blonde hair that first launched in 1959, while in 2016 it released a curvy, petite and tall range in the US.

In the UK, Barbie role models have included broadcaster Clara Mafo, Team GB athlete Dina Asher-Smith, champion skateboarder Sky Brown, model and activist Adwoa Abdoah and Olympic champion boxer Nicola Adams.

As part of the role models initiative, Barbie said it will make a donation to Wise’s My Skills My Life programme, which allows girls to explore personality types and matches them with relatable role models working in Stem.

In addition to the doll of Dame Sarah, the toy company has created models to honour five other women working in Stem industries around the world.

These include:

- US healthcare workers Amy O’Sullivan and Dr Audrey Cruz

- Canadian doctor and campaigner Dr Chika Stacy Oriuwa

- Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr Jaqueline Goes de Jesus

- Dr Kirby White, an Australian medic who co-created a reusable gown for frontline staff

All these dolls are one-of-a-kind models that will not go on general sale.

Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global head of Barbie & dolls at Mattel, said: “Barbie recognises that all frontline workers have made tremendous sacrifices when confronting the pandemic and the challenges it heightened.

“To shine a light on their efforts, we are sharing their stories and leveraging Barbie’s platform to inspire the next generation to take after these heroes and give back.

“Our hope is to nurture and ignite the imaginations of children playing out their own storyline as heroes.”

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