The Genesis Prize Foundation has awarded its 2022 Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel”, to Dr. Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer for his role in leading the American pharmaceutical company’s significant efforts to develop the COVID-19 vaccine and deliver it to countries around the world.
The Genesis Prize selection committee commended Bourla for his leadership, determination, and his willingness to assume great risks. “Unlike CEOs of most other major companies working on developing COVID-19 vaccines, Bourla declined billions of dollars in US federal subsidies in order to avoid government bureaucracy and expedite development and production of the vaccine,” the committee said in an announcement on Wednesday.
Pfizer’s partner, BioNTech, received funds from the German government, and Pfizer and BioNTech eventually announced an agreement with the US government to supply doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2020 and 2021. The vaccine was the first to receive authorization for use in the US and Europe. On December 20, 2020, the US Food & Drug Administration authorized the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for emergency use and companies prepared to deliver the first doses of the vaccine in the United States.
Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population and later signed a deal to receive continuous quantities of the vaccine. Since then, the Pfizer shot has been imperative to the country’s rapid rollout of vaccines as part of its successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The Genesis Prize committee noted Bourla’s pride in his Jewish identity and heritage, commitment to Jewish values, and support for the State of Israel.
The Genesis Prize, launched in 2013, recognizes individuals “who have attained excellence and international renown in their fields, and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community, and the State of Israel.” Recipients of the prize are given $1 million for the award.
Bourla received the largest number of votes in a recent global campaign, where 200,000 people in 71 countries voted online. The decision to name him the 2022 prize laureate was unanimously approved by the nine judges of the Genesis Prize Selection Committee, the foundation said in its statement.
Bourla becomes the ninth Genesis Prize Laureate after filmmaker and philanthropist Steven Spielberg, who was awarded the Genesis Prize in 2021 and donated his $1 million award to 10 non-profit organizations working on the frontlines of racial and economic justice in the United States, and the human rights activist Natan Sharansky, who was named the 2020 Laureate for his “legendary” advocacy work and donated his prize to a number of companies ____ the COVID-19 virus.
Following the precedent set by the prize’s inaugural laureate Michael Bloomberg and past winners, like Spielberg and Sharansky, Bourla will also donate his award to philanthropic causes. Bourla has chosen to direct his $1 million prize to projects aimed at preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, with a particular emphasis on the tragedy suffered by the Greek Jewish community.
Bourla was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and raised in a family of Holocaust survivors. His parents were among only 2,000 survivors out of a once-thriving Jewish community of 50,000 almost completely wiped out by the Nazis.
“I did not set out to live a public life, and I never could have imagined that I might one day receive the profound honor of the Genesis Prize and stand alongside my extraordinary fellow nominees. I accept it humbly and on behalf of all my Pfizer colleagues who answered the urgent call of history these past two years and together bent the arc of our common destiny. 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. I look forward to being in Jerusalem to accept this honor in person, which symbolizes the triumph of science and a great hope for our future,” Bourla said after receiving the award.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletterSubscribe
“Dr. Bourla personifies two of the most fundamental Jewish values: the commitment to the sanctity of life and to repairing the world. And while the pandemic is far from over, millions of people are alive and healthy because of what Dr. Bourla and his team at Pfizer have accomplished,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation.
“Dr. Bourla is a bright star in the constellation of outstanding Jewish scientists and doctors at the forefront of fighting the pandemic,” Polovets said, “This is a very proud moment, not just for Dr. Bourla, but for the entire Jewish community. A people so small in number are having such an outsized impact on the global effort to save lives.”
“We hope that these extraordinary individuals and their colleagues join us in Jerusalem to further unite in our common resolve to save lives and honor our heritage,” he added.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will present the Genesis Prize to Dr. Bourla at a ceremony in Jerusalem planned for June 29. The prize is usually awarded at a dinner attended by Israel’s Prime Minister in Jerusalem in June, but the ceremony has been called off for the past two years due to the pandemic. Bourla has said he hopes to travel to Jerusalem this summer for the event.
Last year, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa awarded Bourla an honorary doctorate for “extraordinary achievement in leading the record time development” of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nominees and past winners
In October, the Genesis Prize Foundation published the names of seven nominees, including Bourla, who were selected as nominees for the Genesis Prize, as a result of a four-week-long online global campaign. It was the second time the process of choosing a winner was open to the public.
The 2021 nominees alongside Bourla were British-born actor, producer, and director Sacha Baron Cohen, US fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Israeli philosopher and author Yuval Noah Harari, US actress and activist Scarlett Johansson, and French human rights activist and Nazi war criminals hunter Serge Klarsfeld.
Previous winners of the Genesis Prize include New England Patriots owner and philanthropist Robert Kraft in 2019, actress Natalie Portman in 2018, artist Anish Kapoor in 2017, violinist Itzhak Perlman in 2016, actor-director Michael Douglas in 2015, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2014.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2018, Genesis Prize winner Natalie Portman declined to attend the annual prize ceremony because Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to give a speech. This was after Israeli-South African philanthropist and entrepreneur Morris Kahn announced he was donating an additional $1 million to the prize. The foundation subsequently canceled the ceremony.