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Moderna’s top medical officer awarded honorary doctorate by Bar-Ilan University

Tal Zaks ‘hooded’ at ceremony on campus, expresses confidence that vaccines will be able to counter variations of the coronavirus

Tal Zaks (C), Moderna's chief medical officer, receives an honorary doctorate during a ceremony at Bar-Ilan University on April 26, 2021. (Courtesy)
Tal Zaks (C), Moderna's chief medical officer, receives an honorary doctorate during a ceremony at Bar-Ilan University on April 26, 2021. (Courtesy)

Israel’s Bar-Ilan University on Monday awarded an honorary doctorate to Tal Zaks, the top medical officer at Moderna, for his role in developing the Massachusetts-based pharma firm’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Zaks, who is Israeli, was in the country to participate in person in a ceremony that was held on campus.

“I am moved and thankful for this great honor,” Zaks said, according to a statement from Bar-Ilan. “I see it as a token of appreciation of all the people at Moderna who are behind this achievement. All my professional life, I have strived to interweave science and medicine, and I am proud to receive this award from a university that uniquely does so.”

During the “hooding” ceremony at the university, Zaks also commented on the challenges to vaccines from mutations of the coronavirus.

“When we assess mutations, we realize that the basis of the virus is the same,” he said. “The first variant is the important one, and I believe that we have provided a comprehensive response to it. An additional dose of the vaccine may be needed in the future and we are currently examining this possibility,” he said.

“Today, we have a global infrastructure and confidence in technology that allows us, in a short time, to produce vaccines that are resistant to any variant that develops,” Zaks said.

Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks speaks during an interview at the company headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 27, 2020. (Screen capture, Rodrique Ngowi/AP)

The full honorary doctorate ceremony will take place on May 30, the university said.

Earlier this month, Israel paid tribute during its Independence Day celebrations to Albert Bourla, the chief executive of international drug maker Pfizer Inc., thanking him for a partnership that has helped the country carry out one of the world’s most successful coronavirus vaccination campaigns.

At the main official ceremony in Jerusalem, Bourla delivered a recorded video message that was broadcast on national TV.

“Together, we are demonstrating that through mass vaccination, we can defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives,” Bourla said.

Bourla, a son of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Greece, had reportedly been invited to attend in person as a representative of Diaspora Jewry, but was unable to come.

In response to heavy lobbying from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bourla agreed to provide Israel with enough Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to inoculate the country of 9.3 million people. In return, Israel has agreed to share data from its campaign with Pfizer.

Israel has vaccinated over three-quarters of its adult population and over half of the entire population. Infection rates have plummeted, allowing the country to reopen its economy in recent weeks. Although Israel has come under some criticism for not sharing more of its vaccine supplies with the Palestinians, its vaccination campaign is widely seen as a success.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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