BioNTech chief rejects Trump claim it delayed Covid vaccine news

Exclusive: Ugur Şahin says he and Pfizer CEO received results night before announcement

Prof Uğur Şahin
BioNTech chief excutive, Prof Uğur Şahin: ‘Pharmaceutical research should never be politicised. It’s a question of integrity.’ Photograph: Dominik Pietsch/© BioNTech SE 2020/PA
BioNTech chief excutive, Prof Uğur Şahin: ‘Pharmaceutical research should never be politicised. It’s a question of integrity.’ Photograph: Dominik Pietsch/© BioNTech SE 2020/PA

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 23.37 EST

The scientist behind the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has defended his company from Donald Trump’s accusation that it deliberately delayed news of its rapid progress until after the election, saying “we don’t play politics”.

BioNTech, a German company, and the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Monday that their jointly developed vaccine candidate had exceeded expectations in the crucial phase 3 vaccine trials, proving 90% effective in protecting people from coronavirus infections.

Quick Guide

Who in the UK will get the new Covid-19 vaccine first?

Show

The UK government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has published a list of groups of people who will be prioritised to receive a vaccine for Covid-19. The list is:

1 All those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers.

2 All those 75 and over.

3 All those 70 and over.

4 All those 65 and over.

5 Adults under 65 at high at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

6 Adults under 65 at moderate risk of at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

7 All those 60 and over.

8 All those 55 and over.

9 All those 50 and over.

10 Rest of the population.

Was this helpful?

The US president criticised the timing of their press release. Trump accused the companies of holding back the good news until after the American elections “because they didn’t have the courage to do it before”.

But BioNTech’s chief executive, Prof Uğur Şahin, told the Guardian in a wide-ranging interview he only was notified of the outcome of the interim trials on Sunday at 8pm in a call from the Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who himself had only been informed three minutes earlier by the independent monitoring board.

“We want to develop this vaccine as quickly as possible, and we have our own system of coordinates,” Şahin said in response to Trump’s accusation. “Every day counts, and we were desperately waiting for the day of the trial results. It couldn’t come early enough.”

“Pharmaceutical research should never be politicised. It’s a question of integrity. Withholding information would have been unethical. What’s important for us is that we are developing a vaccine and we don’t play politics.”

Others have criticised the two companies for not holding on to their information long enough. Bourla raised eyebrows when he sold $5.6m (£4.2m) in stock as company shares soared on Monday night.

Pfizer says the shares were sold via an automated system after they hit a certain price, under a plan set up in August.