Two Turkish-German scientists were awarded Greece's Empress Theophano Prize on Wednesday for saving millions of lives with the development of the first vaccine against the coronavirus, according to the Empress Theophano Foundation.
"It is a great pleasure for me to present the Empress Theophano Prize to two wonderful scientists, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, who have made their way in life and science together," said Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who presented the prize, which is given to individuals or organizations for their contribution to the understanding and strengthening of the notion of the modern European identity.
Noting that Şahin and Türeci grew up at the intersection of Mediterranean and Central European cultures, Sakellaropoulou underscored the importance of the role played by the couple in the invention of the vaccine, which protects humanity against COVID-19, one of the biggest threats of the 21st century.
"Today, we honor an important man and woman with their teams of scientists for their important contributions to humanity. We reward their faith, dedication, perseverance and strength," she added.
Türeci and Şahin, who co-founded BioNTech, the German firm that developed a COVID-19 vaccine together with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, visited Atatürk House in the Greek city of Thessaloniki earlier in the day.
"As scientists of Turkish origin, it is an honor for us to visit the place where [Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk was born. Ataturk, as one of the pioneering leaders of modern Europe, understood the fundamental values that free thought and science have for humanity. We subscribe to his wise words 'Science is the only true guide in life'," the couple wrote in the guest book.
Şahin and Türeci are a husband-and-wife team who surprised the world when they announced that the vaccine they developed together with Pfizer was more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.
Theirs was the first vaccine released, faster than many had predicted, and it relied on cutting-edge mRNA technology that Şahin and Türeci had championed.