Anti-vaxxers have been spreading videos on social media claiming to show that the bosses of Pfizer and BioNTech have refused to receive a vaccination against COVID-19. However, these claims are grossly misleading; the video snippets being shared are outdated and both CEOs received the vaccine when they were eligible.
A social media post recently doing the rounds claims to show that Dr Uğur Şahin, CEO of BioNTech, the biotechnology that partnered with Pfizer to create one of the COVID-19 vaccines, refuses to take the jab for safety reasons.
One Facebook post reads: “Earlier this year vaccine inventor and investor Dr Ugur Sahin CEO of BioNTech and inventor of the BIO N TECH Pfizer vaccine avoids answering with any detail the question of why he wasn’t vaccinated at that time, saying vaguely it’s against the law for him to do so. Judge yourself his reaction to the question.”
The video was taken from an interview with German broadcaster DW News and posted on Youtube on December 22, 2020, prior to vaccine rollouts in Germany. Dr Şahin is asked why he has not yet received the vaccine despite the European Union approving the vaccine on December 21. He explains that he was not legally eligible for the jab. At this time, the vaccine rollout in Germany had only just begun and the shot was only available for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. He did not cite any safety concerns.
It’s since been confirmed that Dr Şahin is fully vaccinated and, fittingly, he received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In an email to Reuters, a spokesperson from BioNTech said: “Ugur Sahin received his first vaccinations early in 2021 and the booster a couple of weeks ago. The text they (the social media posts) are referring to was a statement made in Dec 2020 – it is completely outdated.”
A similar post widely shared in March 2021 claimed that Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had not received a COVID-19 vaccine while insisting others did. This is also misleading and being shared out of context as Bourla also wasn't eligible for the vaccine when the video was filmed months earlier.
The clip comes from an interview with CNBC on December 14, 2020, in which Bourla, discussing individuals who may be hesitant to get the vaccine, was asked why he had not yet received the vaccine. He replies that he is not yet eligible, arguing that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a CEO to skip the queue. Upon being asked when he will receive the vaccine, he said: "The sooner I can, I will! The only sensitivity here, Meg [Tirrell, CNBC Senior Health and Science Reporter], is that I don’t want to have an example that I’m cutting the line, that I’m 59 years old, in good health, I’m not working in the front line. So my type is not recommended to get [the] vaccination now, so that’s one consideration."
“I’m trying to find a way that I will get vaccinated, [even] if it is not my time, just to demonstrate the confidence of the company. But we have made a decision that if we have to do that, we will not do it with our executives, so none of the executives or board members would cut the line — they would take it as their age and occupation type — it’s time for them to take [it],” added Bourla.
Just like Şahin, Bourla has since been vaccinated. In March 2021, Bourla tweeted an image of him receiving the vaccine, saying: “Excited to receive my 2nd dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech #COVID19 vaccine.”