Pfizer CEO receives $1 million Genesis Prize for role in developing COVID-19 vaccine

Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., received the prestigious Genesis Award on Wednesday for his efforts in leading the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The $1 million prize is awarded annually to an individual for their professional achievements, contributions to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values. The Genesis Prize Foundation said Bourla received the most votes in an online campaign in which some 200,000 people in 71 countries took part.

He praised him for his “leadership, his determination, and above all his willingness to take great risks”. He cited Pfizer’s decision to withhold U.S. government funding early in the pandemic, a move that many observers say helped the company reduce bureaucracy and speed up vaccine development.

Its partner, BioNTech, received funding from the German government, and Pfizer subsequently signed a major supply contract with the United States. This strategy has placed Pfizer at the forefront of global efforts to fight the coronavirus, with its vaccine the first to be allowed for use in the United States and Europe.

Born in Greece, Bourla, son of Holocaust survivors, plans to donate his award to projects aimed at preserving the memory of Holocaust victims, particularly in Greece, the foundation said. Bourla’s parents were among the few survivors of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, which was virtually wiped out by the Nazis during World War II.

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In a statement released by the foundation, Bourla said he accepts the award “humbly and on behalf of all my Pfizer colleagues who have answered the urgent call of history.”

“I was raised in a Jewish family that believed that each of us was only as strong as the bonds of our community and that we were all called by God to fix the world,” he said.

Dealing with Israel

Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain US approval for emergency use in December 2020, and Israel quickly became one of the first countries to vaccinate its population with the vaccine. He later struck a deal with the drugmaker to exchange vast amounts of data with the company in return for the continued supply of what was then a difficult-to-obtain vaccine.

The deal helped make Israel an early world leader in the fight against COVID-19 and provided valuable data to researchers around the world – although the arrangement has also been criticized by some for confidentiality reasons and for highlighting the disparities in access to vaccines among the wealthy. and poor countries.

Bourla joins a list of business leaders, artists and animators to win the award. Last year’s winner was Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg.

Previous winners have included businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor, actress Natalie Portman; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky.

In 2018, Portman snubbed the awards ceremony because she didn’t want to come across as endorsing then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That same year, the late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a special lifetime achievement award.

No ceremony due to COVID

The prize was inaugurated in 2014 and is run through a partnership between the private Genesis Prize Foundation and the Office of the President of the Jewish Agency, a non-profit group with close ties to the Israeli government. . It is funded by a $100 million endowment established by the foundation.

The award is usually presented in Jerusalem each June at a dinner attended by the Israeli prime minister. But the ceremony has been canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic.

Bourla said he hopes to travel to Jerusalem this summer for the event.

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