We all know Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, about the Emperor who parades stark naked in front of his subjects but no one dares mention it. But what about the story of Özlem Türeci, the much-celebrated Turkish-German co-creator of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, whose face has featured in the New York Times, on the BBC and innumerable other international media and who clearly suffers from partial facial paralysis, a widely-reported side-effect of the drug, but no one dares mention it?
The facial paralysis or Bell’s Palsy is, for instance, flagrantly obvious in this clip from an interview which Türeci and her husband, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, gave to the BBC in October 2022. Türeci is the company’s Chief Medical Officer.
The paralysis is equally obvious in the above still from the interview, which accompanies a BBC article on the couple’s cancer research.
Indeed, it is more or less obvious in all video and still images of Türeci. See, for instance, the somewhat iconic New York Times photo below:
Or this Sabanci University lecture:
So, why does nobody talk about it?
Reports of partial facial paralysis following inoculation with the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine are so widespread that the adverse reaction has become a veritable meme. Justin Bieber famously announced that he was suffering from the disorder in June 2022. A case report of Bell’s Palsy following inoculation with the vaccine can be consulted here. And the FDA’s December 2020 briefing document on the drug contains the following curious passage (p. 6), acknowledging four cases of Bell’s Palsy in the clinical trial, all of them in the vaccine group.
So, was Türeci a victim of her own drug? Well, the answer to that question is definitively no. For earlier images of Türeci show that she was already suffering from facial paralysis several years before the development and rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, albeit to a lesser extent. See, for instance, the below photo from the 2017 article here or the 2016 video clip here.
Could she, however, have somehow developed the disorder in connection with her laboratory work on mRNA drugs? Well, we do not know. But the below photo of Sahin and Türeci in the 1990s shows that as a young woman Türeci had no trace of facial paralysis. The photo comes from a celebratory exposition on the development of the so-called vaccine hosted by the German Museum of Technology.
One thing is sure: If Albert Bourla was suffering from partial facial paralysis, everybody would be talking about it and social media would be lit up. But Bourla is merely the CEO of a company which markets the drug. Türeci is the co-creator of the drug and the CMO and co-founder of the company which actually owns it.