Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, which produced a COVID-19 vaccine, was awarded the prestigious Israeli Genesis prize for 2022. Israeli President Isaac Herzog will present the award along with the $1 million prize at a ceremony in Israel to be held on June 29.
The Genesis Prize honors individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.
Genesis Foundation CEO Stan Polovets praised Bourla, saying “Millions of people are alive and healthy because of what Dr. Bourla and his team at Pfizer have accomplished,” adding that it was a “proud moment not just for the winner but for the entire Jewish community.”
Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Bourla was the child of Holocaust survivors.
“I was brought up in a Jewish family who believed that each of us is only as strong as the bonds of our community; and that we are all called upon by God to repair the world,” Bourla said.
Early in the pandemic, Pfizer established an exclusive deal with the Israeli Ministry of Health: vaccines for data. Israel paid a premium and locked in an early supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. From the beginning of the campaign in December 2020 and for several months, Israel led international charts in vaccination rates. Israel also recently purchased Pfizer’s anti-COVID pill.
In February 2021, Bourla stated that Israel had become a lab for his company's COVID-19 vaccine.
“I believe Israel has become the world’s lab right now because they are using only our vaccine at this stage and they have vaccinated a very big part of their population, so we can study both economy and health indices,” Bourla said in an interview with NBC News.
Pfizer is reportedly set to announce more than $80 billion in revenue in 2021 on strong sales of its COVID-19 vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech. The company’s revenue could climb to $101.3 billion in 2022, thanks to a huge deal with the United States. The Biden administration has recently doubled its order for Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid (COVID-19 pill) from 10 million courses to 20 million.
The former lead developer of Israel’s own COVID vaccine called the decision to award Bourla “pathetic” and said the vaccine is “mediocre” and effective only in the “short term.”
“There are much more prominent Israeli scientists,” Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), told Channel 12. “He’s the CEO of a company that did not do this from the goodness of their heart, but merely to rake in billions. It is a mediocre vaccine – I was vaccinated three times and got sick. A lot of people got infected after they were vaccinated. Calling the vaccine moderately effective is pretty generous.”
Shapira said that Israel’s BriLife vaccine was stumped by bureaucracy and still has not come to market.
Nevertheless, Pfizer’s CEO received the most votes in a recent global vote in which more than 200,000 people from 71 countries participated. The Genesis committee commended Bourla “for his leadership, determination, and especially for his willingness to assume great risks.”
“Unlike CEOs of most other major companies working on developing COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Bourla declined billions of dollars in U.S. federal subsidies in order to avoid government bureaucracy and expedite development and production of the vaccine,” the statement said. “As a result, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was ready in record time: months instead of years.”
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.