Everybody has wanted to celebrate the heroes who have worked tirelessly to help us through the COVID-19 pandemic — and have found creative ways to do so.

People all around the world started clapping on their doorsteps for health workers as the first wave of the virus was spreading early last year. Vogue magazine opted to replace high fashion models and celebrity cover stars with essential workers for its June 2020 issue too; recognising the efforts of a train driver, a supermarket checkout assistant, and a midwife.

Meanwhile at Global Citizen we put on a festival to tackle vaccine inequity called Vax Live: The Concert to Unite the World, attended entirely by fully vaccinated frontline workers.

And now toy company Mattel has kept the momentum going by creating a new Barbie doll made in the likeness of vaccinologist Dame Sarah Gilbert, co-creator of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, as part of a new series of dolls that highlight pandemic frontline workers and celebrate careers in science.

As the designer of the most used vaccine against COVID-19 in the world, with doses sent to over 170 countries so far, Gilbert’s work has led to countless lives being saved. Millions of those doses were shared with low-income countries through COVAX, the international vaccine sharing facility.

In honour of her work, Gilbert was made a Dame in the Queen’s birthday honours list this year.

Her Barbie is one of six new toys that have been created to highlight women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) — an area of work where women are chronically underrepresented, making up just 28% of the workforce in the US.

The other STEM workers who inspired new Barbie dolls because of their work during the pandemic 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, and Dr Kirby White, an Australian medic who created a reusable gown for frontline staff who were running out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Gilbert told reporters that she first found the doll of herself “very strange”, but she hopes it will inspire girls to follow in her footsteps.

“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," Gilbert said.

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

Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel, said in a statement: “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,” she continued. “Our hope is to nurture and ignite the imaginations of children playing out their own storyline as heroes."

Mattel’s Barbie dolls have received a fair amount of criticism in their 62-year history for their unrealistic body shape and image of womanhood. In more recent years a more diverse range of Barbie dolls have been produced, with different body types and representing different career paths, including a Barbie firefighter, doctor, and astronaut. 

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

The Scientist Who Made the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Has Barbie Doll Made in Her Honour

By Helen Lock