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The First Shots

The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine

Brendan Borrell

The full inside story of the high-stakes global race for the lifesaving vaccine to end the pandemic

Heroic science. Chaotic politics. Billionaire entrepreneurs. In The First Shots, award-winning journalist Brendan Borrell brings to life the defining story of our times through absorbing, first-time reporting on those leading the fight against a vicious virus.

Borrell draws on exclusive, high-level access to take us inside the intense competition among brilliant scientists and the epic rivalries among Washington power players. His propulsive narrative depicts key players such as infectious-diseases expert Michael Callahan, who was secretly on the ground in Wuhan to gauge the terrifying ravages of ‘disease X’; Robert Kadlec, one of Operation Warp Speed’s architects, whose audacious plans ran straight into the buzz-saw of the Trump White House factions; and Stéphane Bancel of Moderna Therapeutics, the upstart company that went toe to toe with pharma behemoth Pfizer.

A real-life thriller playing out over eighteen months of fear, resolve and triumph, The First Shots lays bare the stunning story behind the medical-science ‘moonshot’ of our lifetimes.


ABC Radio National: Counterpoint (0:28:00)    
ABC Radio National: Late Night Live    
ABC Radio Sydney: Focus    
Air Mail: Pfizer vs Trump (extract) ($)   

Brendan Borrell
About the Author

Brendan Borrell is an Outside magazine correspondent and has written on health, science and business for the Atlantic, Bloomberg Businessweek, National Geographic, Wired and The New York Times. Borrell lives in Los Angeles, and The First Shots is his first book.

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Text publication date:
2 November 2021
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Praise for Brendan Borrell
andThe First Shots

‘In his vivid account of the tumultuous journey toward developing a coronavirus vaccine, Brendan Borrell offers immediate and hugely valuable insights. Beyond the chaotic politics, clashing egos, and erratic logistics were unprecedented scientific achievements. Those audacious efforts, and the people behind them, come fully to life in Borrell’s absorbing narrative.’

‘In The First Shots, Brendan Borrell delivers a riveting, sometimes startling, sometimes chilling page-turner of a book…It’s also a remarkable illumination of the politics, the personalities, and the human drama underlying a desperate scientific fight against an invisible enemy.’

‘Astonishingly powerful…Brendan Borrell has written a compelling, up-to-the-minute chronicle of a pivotal moment in the history of science. You will learn something new on every page of The First Shots.’

‘Brendan Borrell has delivered the definitive account of the race to develop and manufacture the vaccines needed to combat COVID-19. The book does a masterful job of explaining the science behind the vaccines while unfurling a vivid story full of exceptional characters locked in a thrilling competition to do nothing less than try and save the world. It’s a gripping tale of what happens when unlikely heroes battle through extraordinary circumstances.’

‘Engaging, often intriguing…There’s a real fly-on-the-wall sense of immediacy to [Borrell’s] portrait of the time.’

Other editions ofThe First Shots
  • The First Shots
    ISBN: 9781922459565
    2 November 2021
    Buy ebook