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Fact check: BioNTech CEO has been vaccinated for months

Tetyana Klug
December 9, 2021

A doctored version of an old DW interview with BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin suggests he didn't get vaccinated. It's a fake.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin has received three shots of the COVID-19 vaccineImage: Florian Gaertner/photothek/imago images

Claim: "Dr Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech and inventor of the BIO N TECH Pfizer jab, refuses to take the jab for safety reasons," writes the person who posted a video, which has been making the rounds on Twitter, YouTube and other platforms since early December.

DW Fact check: This claim is false.

The video does indeed show BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin— but it is from back in 2020 and taken out of context. As BioNTech had told the news agency Reuters, Sahin has been vaccinated and has also received a booster shot. Our fact-checking team examined the video and the intention to manipulate viewers.

What exactly does the video show?

The video, which is 2 minutes and 17 seconds long, is supposedly showing proof that Sahin, who co-developed the first successful COVID-19 vaccine in the world, has himself not been vaccinated. But what does it actually show?

In the first 15 seconds, only Sahin can be seen. What can be heard off-camera is a reporter speaking in English: "Allow me a personal question, I know that you are not particularly fond of answering personal questions but you and your wife Dr. Tureci played such a central role in the development of the virus," he can be heard saying. The video then zooms in on Sahin and the words "development of the virus" are replayed twice in slow motion.

"I have heard that you yourself have not taken the vaccine yet," the reporter continues. "Why not?" Sahin responds: "So, I am legally not allowed to take the vaccine at the moment" and goes on to explain that there is a system of prioritization in place.

At the time of the video, only older people and relatives of people at high risk were eligible to receive a shot of the vaccine. Neither Sahin nor his co-workers were able to take part in clinical trials. "We of course consider to make that possible," Sahin says.

"It is more important for us that our co-workers and partners get vaccinated so our goal is to produce more than 1.3 billion doses in 2021 and that can only be done if we continue to work 24/7 without any interruption."

He says nothing about not wanting to be vaccinated or having any doubts regarding safety.

Real video, fake context

In their comments, users raise several important questions: Is the video real? Where is it from? When was the interview recorded?

The video itself delivers some clues. For example, a DW microphone can be seen in the second half and a quick Google search of the words "DW Sahin interview" calls up a video entitled "BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin: 'Our vaccine will likely work for mutated coronavirus variants,'" which was posted on DW News' YouTube channel on November 22, 2020. It is 8 minutes and 30 seconds long but it was used as the basis for the much shorter version now circulating.

Other older interviews with Sahin are also doing the rounds on social media suggesting that he does not want to be vaccinated. For example, an interview from December 21, 2020, was edited to focus entirely on the fact that he said that had not yet been vaccinated. That clip was posted on YouTube in October. The fact that Sahin had also said that he would "naturally love to be vaccinated" was not part of the clip.   

Vaccinated since March

At the time of those interviews, Sahin was 55 and thus not part of the priority groups for vaccination, stipulated in a German health ministry ordinance because of the limited number of available doses. Only people aged over 80 and those living in care homes were getting vaccinated at the time.

On March 19, 2021, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci announced in a live interview with Bild that they had both been vaccinated, as had their team members.

According to the news agency Reuters, a BioNTech spokesperson wrote in a recent email that "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."

This article was originally written in German.