Podcast·3 min read

Skimm'd from the Couch: Dr. Kathrin Jansen

March 17, 2021

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device: Apple podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher

Welcome to our Women’s History Month series on Skimm’d from the Couch - where we’re bringing you the women who made history this past year. 

Meet: Dr. Kathrin Jansen. Dr. Jansen is the head of vaccine research at Pfizer. So she literally helped develop the COVID-19 vaccine that’s being distributed in the US and around the world. But why stop there? It turns out, she’s developed other breakthrough vaccines throughout her career. Like the one that fights HPV.

On Dealing With Skepticism

Danielle: How did you confront the naysayers? Especially when it came from your own company at times. 

Kathrin: ....When you're really convinced about something and you have the intuition that you may be on the right track, I think it's really important to stick to your guns. 

This is what I call intuition. This comes out of what you have experienced, what you already have done. So it all comes together and you have the sense that the solution is in one direction and not in another direction, or that an approach is maybe more suited than another approach.

So you kind of have this, it's almost like a gut feeling of where you want to go. And [in the case of the Gardasil vaccine], I was convinced that we could make this work. Not that I was a hundred percent certain, but I had the intuition and the sense that [with] the approach that we were using and the way we were approaching [it], we actually could make this work.

On Mentors

Kathrin: You want to have a person that can give you advice that doesn't have any skin necessarily in the game because you get probably the best insights from such such individuals. If you ask your friends, of course, they will agree with you. So, that's nice and makes you feel good, but it does not necessarily put you on the right track.

You also seek alliances, right? You also seek alliances because sometimes it's a lonely game to go against the stream. To be the salmon that swims up the river, right? So you want to have individuals that see the world the way you see it, and when critical decisions are being made, are actually in a position to help you out.

On the COVID-19 Vaccine

Danielle: When the stakes are this high, does that fuel you or is that something you block out?

Kathrin: Last year was devastating. It was frightening. All the bad emotions that you can think about that one can go through were all there. And we were right in the middle of it because [I was] living in New York with my husband. And so, we saw the consequences and it was terrifying. And so what I did in this situation is just be even more determined than I usually am because you see this disaster and all you can think about is we need to find a solution.

So this became all consuming. I did not think about failure. I did not think about success. All I thought about is we have to come up with something that stops this pandemic. And so that gives you a lot of fuel to go through endless days and weeks.

Live Smarter

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.