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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Turkish-German vaccine pioneers honoured with top award

The Turkish-German couple produced one of the most effective Covid-19 vaccines [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 March, 2021

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Germany's president presented the country’s top award to married couple Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, who developed the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has awarded Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, two German scientists of Turkish origin, the country’s highest award on Friday, for their work in developing the world’s first effective vaccine against Covid-19.

The Turkish-German couple are co-founders of the BioNTech company, which in partnership with the US drug multinational Pfizer last November announced a Covid-19 vaccine with around 95 percent efficacy. 

Steinmeier presented the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit, Germany's highest award, to Sahin and Tureci at a ceremony held at the Bellevue Palace, which Chancellor Angela Merkel also attented.

“On behalf of our country, I would like to thank you both for your outstanding scientific achievements, and I wish that your further major research plans would bring about similar ground-breaking successes for you and for all of us,” Steinmeier said at the ceremony, Anadolu Agency reported.

He added that Sahin and Tureci’s pioneering work in the field of mRNA technology, and their development of the coronavirus vaccine in less than a year, made a crucial contribution to containing the pandemic.

“Your ground-breaking discovery is saving human lives, it is securing the necessities of life, ensuring our social, economic and cultural survival. With every vaccinated person we can take a small step towards normalization, a step towards the life we miss and the people we love,” Steinmeier added.

Both Sahin and Tureci were born to immigrant parents from Turkey who moved to Germany in the 1960s. Tureci was born in Germany, while Sahin arrived in the country when he was four years old.

After studying medicine at university, they built successful careers in the fields of cancer immunology, molecular biology and the mRNA vaccine technology.

They founded the pharmaceutical company BioNTech in 2008.

Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany’s governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), praised the scientists for their great achievements in a Twitter post

“Sahin’s father was seen as a ‘guest worker’ by many, they wanted to send him back to Turkey. It’s good that we’re a country of immigration, it’s good that he stayed here, and his son made a career by studying here,” he said. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated the couple for receiving the Order of Merit of Germany, and said they have become role models for many people. 

“Europe can consider itself lucky, as it greatly benefited from the vision of Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin in the fight against the virus,” she tweeted

Agencies contributed to this report.

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