BioNTech’s CEO and co-founder says he is confident their COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new variant of the novel coronavirus in the UK.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Turkish-German scientist Ugur Sahin stressed he does not see any problem with effectiveness of their vaccine, which they developed with US pharma giant Pfizer, against mutations.
“This is not the first time the virus mutates. There were several mutations before. We checked all the mutations in the past and we don’t see any problem. It would take two weeks to check the new mutations but we are not afraid. We need to check but there is no such thing that the vaccine is not going to be effective,” he said.
Adding that the studies on the new mutation in the UK is limited, Sahin said: “All we know until today is that it’s new. Some people say it is transmitted from person to person more quickly. We brought the genetic mutations to our lab and will start working on it.”
Sahin said they believe that “even if 1% of the virus has mutated, 99% can still be consolidated.”
European Medicines Agency approval
Sahid said he was pleased by the approval of European Medicines Agency (EMA) Monday, adding: “It was a great job for those who contributed [to the development of the vaccine]. This is another important step. I’m very happy but also very focused. As always, I have to think about what the next step is. There isn’t much time for emotions.”
He added: “This is a very important development for us. The European Medicines Agency sets an example for other countries. We will send the vaccine to 27 countries, and they will start vaccination. Of course, we do not have enough vaccine doses right now. At first, every country will receive hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses. In January and February, maybe we’ll have the opportunity to increase the number to 10-15 million doses.”
Shipment of vaccines
He said they have stored enough doses of vaccines for Turkey, adding that negotiations continue and that it is possible to sign a contract soon.
Noting that the development of the vaccine still continues, he said: “Our employees work both in Germany and Belgium as well as in the US. The vaccine is constantly being developed there. Now the first delivery is important. Then people can start to get vaccinated. We will ship more when it’s needed.”
He added that vaccination is not an easy process as there are 500 million Europeans who need to be vaccinated.
“This is not very fast. In my opinion, it takes until the summer to achieve a high vaccination rate,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Stressing that the coronavirus will never be fully defeated, he said what they want to achieve is to overcome the situation where people have to stay home.
“We can achieve this if everyone works well on it and we can deliver enough doses of vaccines,” he also said.
“We can achieve this by the end of the summer,” he noted, adding: “It’s easier during the summer. Because the virus is less active in summer. And people are usually outdoors, where the risk of infection is lower. What is important is to survive the winter.”
He stressed the significance of reaching 60-70% vaccination rate before the start of winter next year.
Developing COVID-19 vaccine
When he was first informed the vaccine they developed with his wife Ozlem Tureci was successful, he said he first shared it with his wife.
Asked whether or not he would receive the vaccine, he said: “We are looking into it right now. We want to make a small number of production for employees. Then I’ll probably be vaccinated.”
Wide support from Turks
Sahin was born in Turkey’s southern province of Iskenderun in 1965 and moved to Germany when he was 4 years old.
He said he has relatives in Turkey and talks to them from time to time. But he added that he hasn’t been to his hometown Iskenderun for almost 30 years, adding that most of his relatives moved to major cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, and Mersin.
“Of course, they are all proud and excited and send us good wishes. This is beautiful,” he said.
“I receive wonderful messages from Turks in Germany as well as people from Turkey. They are all proud. I can understand what they feel. Unfortunately, I can only reply a few of their messages. Please convey my thanks to all of them.”
When asked if he sees himself as a role model, he answered: “No. I was lucky because I went to college.”
“I’m lucky that I was able to achieve some specific things and I’m with wonderful people. Every person, who goes after their duties and talents, is a role model. I’m doing what any person should do,” he added.
Asked about his recommendations to young people, he said he could only advise what he has done so far. “I’ve always directed myself to two things: my love and curiosity for science,” he underlined. I can recommend people to find what they love,” he underlined.
“Even if you do something 10,000 times, it’s important to do it without getting bored. What drives me is helping people. It’s the enlightenment which determines the direction,” he said.
Asked about if the expects to be nominated for Nobel Prize, Ugur Sahin said he cannot comment on it and that he is focused on his work.
* Writing by Iclal Turan in Ankara.
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