Diary of a PhD student in the Netherlands: COVID-19 & vaccines

Sonia Marquez Martinez


6th March 2020, 08.48. I am sitting in my apartment in Amsterdam and I log on to the Johns Hopkins University website like every other morning. 2,100 new cases in Spain. I call my grandfather in Sevilla “So when will the vaccine be ready for COVID-19? Your company is working on it right?” He tries to hide the underlying anxiety in his voice. I don’t think he is scared of death itself, but the idea of gasping his last breath without a hand to hold, in an overcrowded hospital, in undignified conditions. I clear the lump in my throat and put together a random mix of comforting words that I have heard before, that I’m not sure I believe myself. I hang up.

26th March 2020, afternoon. I attended a townhall from Johnson & Johnson. I only joined the company five months ago and this constant support still strikes me sometimes. They thanked all the workers for their efforts in the last month, especially the team working on the COVID-19 vaccine. Everything is moving extremely rapidly and my colleagues have been working for endless hours, spending nights and weekends pipetting in the lab away from their families, yet they don’t sound tired. It takes a unique kind of person to endure this situation and go one step further. As a young researcher I feel extremely thankful to be on the front line.

Someday mid-April. The trees in front of my apartment have bloomed, apparently. In the supermarket, I am taking the last pack of flour, when an employee attempts to pass by. We perform the coronavirus dancing ritual to keep our distance and we both nervously smile as he passes by. Everyone in this supermarket, in Europe, in the world, is fighting this pandemic. The application of the work we do at Johnson and Johnson has never felt so palpable. We have a social duty to all these people, and we will deliver.

Sonia Marquez Martinez is a Spanish PhD based in The Netherlands