Wed. Dec 7th, 2022


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COVID-19: ‘Humble’ boss of firm with ‘90% effective’ vaccine cycles to work and does not own a TV

2 min read

A week ago, few outside the scientific community knew Professor Ugur Sahin’s name.

Now, he’s something of a global celebrity.

Via television coverage alone, however, he wouldn’t be aware of it. The man whose company – BioNtech – is valued in the billions does not own a TV, and says he simply concentrates on his work.

On Monday, Pfizer announced the vaccine it has been developing with BioNTech is 90% effective in preventing people getting coronavirus.

We spoke to him via zoom because he’s limiting his physical contact with people at the moment. But even at a distance you got a sense of the man.

‘Humble’ was the word his colleagues had used with us about him, and the lack of ego, given BioNTech’s success with the COVID-19 vaccine, is profound.

Funny, warm and self-effacing from the start, he told us that “relief” was the overwhelming emotion he was feeling.

Relief that the work he’d applied his company’s resources to for almost a year had secured results way beyond his expectations. Relief that a vaccine to tackle the global virus was close to getting approval.

But never did he see it as HIS achievement. There was no sense of personal triumphalism.

He talked constantly about collaboration – not just within his workforce in Germany, but between companies around the world.

His focus is on the vaccine – on the science. Not the fame. Although he did concede the “recognition is nice”.

If the jab gets the go-ahead, it will not just be more fame Prof Sahin will be getting, but fortune, too.

“Will you still ride to work on a bicycle?” I asked. Definitely, he replied, adding: “It’s the most efficient way to get around.”

And, anyway, he doesn’t have a driving licence.

“Will fame change you?” I asked. Not at all, came the reply. “I was middle class and it’s completely fine to live a normal life,” Prof Sahin said.

And you believe him.

We spoke to him, too, about how much focus there has been on him as a Turkish immigrant, even though he has lived in Germany since he was four.

He said: “I got a lot of messages from Turkish immigrants because it made them feel proud, because immigration comes with a bit of suspicion.

“People who are immigrants believe things like this could change things.”

He added that it’s fine to reference his background but it shouldn’t be the focus.

Prof Sahin hopes people will begin getting the vaccine by mid-December.

But he warns that it’s not a panacea. Wear a mask, he said: Be careful.

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