Scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci receive Princess of Asturias Award

BioNTech co-founders accompanied on stage by inspirational cast of laureates

Alyssa McMurtry   | 22.10.2021
Scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci receive Princess of Asturias Award


Turkish-German scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci received a prestigious Princess of Asturias Award in Oviedo from the Spanish royal family on Friday.

The BioNTech founders won the award for technical and scientific research alongside five other scientists who played pivotal roles in developing the vaccines against COVID-19.

Katalin Kariko, whose work with mRNA was viewed with skepticism for decades but later laid the groundwork for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, accepted the award on their behalf.

“Our hope now is to inspire the next generation of scientists, doctors, and medical workers. Stay curious, ask questions, and stay on track no matter how winding the road ahead may be,” she said in her speech.

The pandemic was a theme throughout the lavish ceremony, but the return to the Campoamor Theatre in downtown Oviedo for the first time since 2019 was triumphant.

“We are thrilled to recover this solemn, grand, yet also welcoming and inspiring setting. … Coming back here truly means a lot,” said Spain’s King Felipe VI in a speech.

Many of the laureates reflected on what the pandemic has meant and the sacrifices made by those on the front lines like health care workers.

“Everyone tried to protect the man or women they loved, but some did something else: they risked their lives to protect strangers. It is a mystery that at times converts that which is abominable into infinite exaltation,” said French author Emmanuel Carrere, who won the award for literature.

The night was particularly special for Spanish chef Jose Andres, whose work feeding people in the wake of natural disasters or crises through the World Central Kitchen NGO won him the award for concord.

Although much of his success has been in the US, Andres was returning to his homeland, the northern Spanish region of Asturias, for the ceremony.

“We immigrants build bridges because we have to. We understand that the world needs longer tables — where food can bring us together — not higher walls to keep us apart,” he said.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem also spoke at the ceremony. Her decades of activism and journalism won her the Award for Communication and Humanities.

“I am honored and amazed by the company of this award in the past, from Susan Sontag to Nelson Mandela, Margaret Atwood to Doris Lessing. All writers and revolutionaries,” she said.

Spanish Paralympic swimmer and motivational speaker Teresa Perales also shared her inspirational story while picking up the award for sports.

“When in 1995, I heard the words ‘you are never going to walk again,’ who could have told me that the path I would travel along with my wheelchair would bring me here today?”

The other awards this year were given to the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, and the pan-African movement CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education).

“Our laureates have always stood as an example of steadfastness and determination. An example of how their causes show the greatest commitment that humans can make: commitment towards others,” said King Felipe VI.

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