BioNTech founders: COVID will become more manageable | Coronavirus and Covid-19 – latest news on COVID-19 | DW

DW: What’s going to happen with COVID-19, and when will the pandemic be over?

Özlem Türeci: That’s a difficult question, because every day we learn something new about the virus, about how it reacts to the vaccine. We need this knowledge to judge the end of the pandemic. But what we can already say with certainty is that gradually a new normal is taking hold. We can already feel it. We are learning to fight the virus. Many of us are already vaccinated and new degrees of freedom are being acquired. There will be a normalcy where we can act more freely because a large part of the population is immune.

We’re going to be dealing with the virus for a few more years, that’s for sure. There will also be answers to questions that are currently unclear. The future will show whether other variants immune to current vaccines emerge and whether these need to be modified accordingly. Over the years, the virus will acquire the status of influenza virus, for which certain groups of the population are vaccinated every year or every two years. The coronavirus will become a more manageable virus.

Are you working on a new generation of your vaccine against other viral mutations?

Ugur Sahin: Yes, we are currently testing vaccine variants in a relatively small group of volunteers. A study on the South African beta variant is nearing completion and a study is underway on the delta variant, mainly to collect data. At this time, it is not necessary to change the vaccine. But we want to show that we can produce new variant vaccines and test them clinically to show that they are as safe as the one we are already using.

If a variant presents itself in the next few years and the vaccine needs to be adapted, we can do it very quickly because we will already have the necessary procedure in place. We will be able, very calmly, to prepare ourselves for the fact that the vaccine may have to be adapted to new viral mutations every two years.

Should we also vaccinate children?

Sahin: We can’t say if it’s necessary. We generate data and provide it to the relevant authorities. They have already approved vaccinations for children aged 12 to 15 (in Germany – Editor’s note).

Türeci: We submitted data for 5-11 year olds three weeks ago and authorities must now judge them in the overall context of population health.

Sahin: It’s very important for us that there is availability. Once the vaccines are approved, it is then up to individuals to decide whether they want them or not.

Are you disappointed that after so much research there are still people who refuse to be vaccinated?

Sahin: We are not at all disappointed. What we do is provide information in a transparent manner. I think it’s good that the experts are speaking out in the media. This way each person has the chance to understand the situation. The only thing I would recommend for everyone would be not only to look at one-sided news but to inform themselves as widely as possible, in order to make a good decision.

Do you understand when people say this is new technology, and we don’t know the potential future consequences?

Sahin: We understand that, but on the other hand, people generally tolerate vaccines very, very well and this is one of the most important achievements of mankind. Without vaccines, our society would not have been able to develop as much as it does today. And our vaccine may be based on new technology, but we understand that because it’s been around for 30 years already.

Our vaccine did not just appear. It is based on a biomolecule that we have in our body, in every cell. We are not introducing anything foreign. We have a very good scientific basis for this because the necessary research has been carried out for over 30 years. This is why it was possible to develop our vaccine so quickly.

Governments around the world are trying to persuade more people to get vaccinated. Could they do more?

Türeci: Every government tries, and they’ve developed some smart and interesting ways to promote people’s willingness to get vaccinated. All governments should look to others in other parts of the world. The mayor of Cologne told us that she goes to certain neighborhoods herself when there is a vaccine deployment. This is something that other decision-makers could learn from.

Dr Özlem Türeci and Dr Ugur Sahin are the founders of the company BioNTech based in Mainz. On October 13, 2021, they were awarded this year’s Empress Theophano Award by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in Thessaloniki, for their work in developing the first COVID-19 vaccine.

The interview was conducted by Irene Anastassopoulou and has been translated from German.


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