When the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the greatest crises in human history, began, I'm sure no one expected that the Turks would be the hope for the world. So far, nine countries have produced a coronavirus vaccine, which is the biggest weapon against the pandemic. We must proudly underline that one of these countries is Turkey.
As we all know, the most widely used vaccine was developed by a couple, whose families immigrated from Turkey to Germany. Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin's BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine did not just break new ground in science, it also broke taboos and molds on many issues such as immigration, integration and anti-Islam rhetoric. I think we will now listen to fewer “tales” against the integration of Turks in Germany.
While it has even been proposed that the couple's pictures be printed on the newly issued euro currency notes, I would like to draw attention to another success story created in Turkey. The country’s vaccine, which is expected to bring hope to the farthest corners of the world, from Central Anatolia to Africa, is Turkovac.
The vaccine was developed entirely by a team of Turkish scientists. Contrary to expectations, the great success story that left its mark on Turkey's indigenous vaccine is neither from Istanbul nor Ankara, but it took place in the heart of central Anatolia, at Erciyes University in Kayseri province.
More interestingly, the vaccine, which was approved for emergency use on Dec. 22, is produced in a facility in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. Yes! It’s the very region whose name has been marred by terrorism and poverty for years.
Speaking at the meeting held for the mass production of the vaccine, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emphasized the “health diplomacy” that has been followed since the beginning of the pandemic. He underlined that Turkey shares medical supplies, especially masks, with 160 countries and 12 international organizations in the world. “We will be pleased to share this vaccine with all humanity, together with the production of Turkovac,” he said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, even Western countries were unable to find masks and protective equipment. The planes full of supplies taking off from Turkey to provide aid are etched in the memory of many countries. Now it seems that we will be proud to send off planes full of Turkovac vaccines.
So, who are the Turks behind the Turkovac pride? That would be professor Dr. Aykut Özdarendeli and his team of eight researchers, whom I compare to 11th-century Muslim scholar Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna in Europe.
Özdarendeli leads the Erciyes University Vaccine Research and Development Center. After his education in universities all over Anatolia, he did his post-doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee in the United States. In 2015, he was the first to patent the cell culture-based Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever vaccine in the world. In other words, he is a scientist with proven success in the field of vaccines.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has been in his laboratory with his team, working hard day and night. The intense teamwork eventually bore fruit. And they've already taken the next step: They're currently trying to isolate the omicron variant. I'm sure they will do that too.
When I look at the diversity in the team's photo and the sparkle in their eyes, I see that the future of Turkey and also the world lies with them. They’re brilliant minds, who came out of Anatolia, fed from these lands and are serving their country by showing utmost devotion to science.
I couldn't be happier that we have them.