Alumnus in focus • Richard Bergström: from Club Dacke to the eye of the pandemic
Richard Bergström, alumnus of Uppsala University’s Faculty of Pharmacy, has been Sweden's vaccine coordinator for 18 intensive months. A position that includes everything from securing national vaccine access to spontaneous selfies with admirers.
One early winter day, the Faculty of Pharmacy inaugurates its new lecture series in the student union building Pharmen. The goal is set: Here, industry profiles will report directly from the front. Neither ambition nor expectation can reach much higher when premiere guest Richard Bergström takes the stage. As Swden's vaccine coordinator, he moves in the absolute center of the pandemic. A few hours earlier, he accepted the Forska!Sverige award for "enormous efforts we will always be grateful for". Now he is in Uppsala to talk about the last 18 months' global race against the virus. But it all really started on the other side of the Dag Hammarskiölds väg.
“I arrived in Uppsala in 1984 and started at the Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy at the Biomedical Center. I kept full focus on my studies all the way to graduation four years later when I got a job at the Swedish Medical Products Agency. On the verge of nerdy determination, thankfully my wife had a few years left to her exam, so in the end I caught up with the student nation scene. Smålands on Fridays, ÖstGöta on Saturdays and Club Dacke in summer was the routine.”
Another four years later, the Bergströms moved to Switzerland for positions at industry giants Roche and Novartis. His efforts led to the position as CEO at the Pharmaceutical Industry Association (LIF) and later the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). In 2017, Richard Bergström was recruited as Head of Pharma at Swiss company SICPA, but everyday life was put on an unexpected hold when the phone rang in early summer 2020.
“It was the Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs that asked if I wanted to take on the role of national vaccine coordinator. With all results in hand, it was an offer that included more working hours and less salary, but above all a fantastic journey to be part of. Personally, I believe that the international mobilisation and collaboration that has led to all these effective vaccines should be rewarded with all Nobel Prizes that exist. In particular, the literature prize for all well-formulated applications that form the basis for this success.”
Of course the job as a vaccine coordinator also contains moments of frustration. "In some cases, there is a certain slowness in the decision to take the vaccine," states Richard Bergström diplomatically. And undeniably, in a situation where four out of five Swedes over the age of 12 have received at least two doses and over half of the world population at least one dose without major side effects, there is reason to reflect on what additional assurance the skeptics require to take the shot and responsibility.
“I sincerely wish that society will soon be free of the virus, but with constantly new variants and mutations, we must aim for 100% vaccinations. Maybe we will soon also need to prepare for a fourth dose, therefor it feels extremely valuable that Sweden and Europe have secured a long-term supply of vaccines and also provided several other parts of the world with the doses they so desperately need!”
RICHARD BERGSTRÖM ON
Living in Switzerland and being Sweden's vaccine coordinator "The advantage is that I’m not recognised in the grocery store, but I am in Sweden every three weeks and so far it has only meant happy faces and having to pose for a few selfies."
The number of working hours per week "Right now very many. Since I accepted the task as vaccine coordinator, I have attended meetings every day except three. On Christmas Eve, we were online for four hours."
Uppsala "My wife's relatives and several of our good friends live in the city, so we travel here quite often. If I'm lucky I have time for a visit to the Medical Products Agency and the Faculty of Pharmacy."
Life as an alumnus "In 1987, I met a pharmacy student at the V-Dala student nation with whom I shared a bottle of cheap white wine. Today he is the vaccine coordinator in another EU country, so now we meet daily and are still very good friends."
FACTS RICHARD BERGSTRÖM
- Education Pharmacy degree 1988
- Profession Sweden's vaccine coordinator, former Head of Pharma, SICPA
- Currently 1st speaker at the new Faculty of Pharmacy lecture series
- Alumnföreningen Farmis (in Swedish)
- Farmacevtiska Studentkåren (in Swedish)
- Also read Alumnus in focus: Erik Fredholm, vaccine coordinator in Region Örebro
text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Magnus Alsne, regeringskansliet
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