The month of November 2020 began when a headline stood out in the press: “A Turkish marriage behind the Pfizer vaccine: millionaires and dedicated to their work.” They were referring to Ugur Sahin, 55, a doctor born in Turkey, raised in Germany, and Özlem Türeci, 53, an immunologist daughter of a Turkish doctor, born in Germany. He is the CEO of BioNTech and she is the company’s chief physician.

Apparently 3.7% of the total population of the Federal Republic of Germany have Turkish roots. In the 1960s and 1970s, Germany needed cheap labor, so Turkish citizens arrived in droves and took root.

I remember a trip I took to Frankfurt in the seventies. I was about to get on a bus, where tickets were bought at a vending machine next to the stop. Four men did the same as me, that is, buy their tickets. We get on and, suddenly, there are screams, protests, and the driver refuses to start the vehicle until those four men get out. They show their bills, speak, gesture. The central door of the bus opens and they are kicked out. The driver starts off. “What happened?” I ask, not understanding what a scandal in my opinion was intolerable. The answer is short: “They are Turks.”

Ugur was born in Turkey. His father emigrated to Cologne to work at Ford, where he would be one of the guest workers (guest workers), necessary for the reconstruction of cities after World War II. A provisional stay was foreseen, integration was not desired. Already settled and with work, he claimed his wife and little 4-year-old Ugur. There he grew up and began his medical studies, becoming interested in immunotherapy. He graduated in 1992 with the highest of qualifications and began working in a hospital, in the departments of internal medicine, hematology and oncology.

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Not all young university students of Turkish origin stayed in Germany. One in three preferred to return to Turkey to carry out their profession, because they did not feel valued, and in their country of origin there is money, work and social benefits.

In 2016, Angela Merkel recognized that it should not have been easy for guest workers integrate in Germany: «We have learned from them to be more relaxed and open. Thank you with all my heart for what you have done for our country.

In the hospital, Ugur would meet Özlem Türeci, daughter of a doctor and biologist, who had been about to enter a convent. On her wedding day the bride wore white, only it was a lab coat to match the groom’s, and so they went to the Civil Registry office. After leaving, the two worked for a few hours in their own BioNTech laboratory, founded in 2008 and dedicated to the development and manufacture of active immunotherapies based on messenger RNA. In January 2020 the couple set out to work to combat the coronavirus and assigned a large number of employees to design various compounds. By March they had already brought in Pfizer as partners, united to defeat COVID-19. An efficacy rate of more than 90% for the vaccine was announced in autumn, following a preliminary trial. Finally, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine passes all safety tests and is authorized by the European Medicines Agency at the end of December. The UK drug regulatory agency then approved the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, certifying that it is safe and effective.

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The son of guest workers Ford may become one of the people who ended a pandemic.

We already have real flesh and blood superheroes.


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