December 23, 2020

The Scientists behind the Vaccine: Who are Uğur Şahin & Özlem Türeci?

Who would have thought that there would be a vaccine by the end of 2020?

Most of us remember the time back in March when everyone was trying to figure out how dangerous COVID-19 would be. Some warned to take it seriously, while others were claiming that it would be gone by summer. Others created conspiracy theories and protested safety measures that were intended to stop the spread of the virus.

Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci took a different turn. The couple paused cancer research for their own company and dedicated their time to find a vaccine. It was a huge financial risk at that time when it wasn’t even sure how big of a deal this pandemic was.

When they heard about the first outbreaks in Wuhan in January, they decided to use their knowledge about immunology to work on developing a vaccine.

I am not a scientist who will give you a detailed explanation of how the vaccine works, but I would like to point out what this couple is teaching all of us.

Özlem Türeci was born in Germany as the daughter of Turkish migrants; her husband was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of four. Both of them became co-founders of a company called BioNTech—you might have heard that name in the news recently.

Early on, they found out that they would need to reach out to investors and reached out internationally. In 2020, they started a cooperation with Pfizer to finance their research on the vaccine for COVID-19.

As most of us heard on the news, this vaccine was the first available and approved vaccine worldwide. It is a beautiful story of success and international cooperation—it shows us how humanity can solve problems together.

This is not about nations or America first; this is about solving a problem by using all resources available. As the couple stated early on, this vaccine should be available to everyone around the world. They don’t want to be in the spotlight—even though it must be challenging for them to see politicians like Trump taking credit for their work.

Needless to say, they also made a fair amount of money with this project. Even before their COVID-19 vaccine, they were listed in the top 100 of the wealthiest people in Germany. I feel that they deserve to be on that list, and I have no problem with them getting paid for their work. Of course, they are the target for countless conspiracy folks in Germany and around the world, but this seems to be the price to pay in 2020 for doing the right thing.

Şahin and Türeci remind us of the unlimited potential we have as human beings when we cooperate. Scientists of Turkish heritage, with their headquarter in Germany and financial support from the United States—isn’t that a beautiful story?

What a wonderful world this could be if we would overcome the mantra of putting our own nation first and accept the fact that we are all living on the same planet as human beings? What a wonderful world this could be if migrants would get the chance to fulfil their dreams and benefit humanity with their outstanding skills? What a wonderful world this could be if we would listen to scientists and not to the one who shouts the loudest on Twitter? 

I am looking forward to a better 2021. Thanks to the vaccine, we can have some legitimate hope that things will return to normal at some point in the future. I am looking forward to hugging my friends, spending time with others, and maybe even going to a concert or sports event.

When we are able to do all these things again, we should thank Şahin, Türeci, and all the other scientists for making that possible.

We will look back at the time when one man thought he could solve a crisis by putting his nation first and rejecting science—and hopefully, we will have learned our lesson and change our mantra to Humanity first.

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