Moderna chief medical officer to receive honorary doctorate from BIU

"I am especially proud to receive this honor from Bar Ilan University, as the university represents for me the perfect combination [of scientific excellence with deep morals]."

Tal Zaks (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tal Zaks
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This May, Dr. Tal Zaks, noted chief medical officer of Moderna, will be granted an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University for his company's development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Zaks was informed of the decision via a phone call from Bar-Ilan president Arie Zaban, who thanked him for what he and his company have done. "What you do is save people's lives," he said.
“It’s not often that we are able to reap such historic fruits from such labor, and to join in experiencing the impact of that work in such an immediate and inspiring way," University President Prof. Arie Zaban told Dr. Zaks.
"You and Moderna have given us that opportunity," Prof. Zaban said. "This degree is an expression of the deep appreciation we have for every member of your dedicated team, whose life-saving work has brought hope to citizens of the world, and special pride to the citizens of Israel, who are honored to call you one of our own.”
“I am touched by the University's decision," responded Zaks. "My life work and that of my colleagues lies in the translation of science into medicine, a translation whose success depends on the integration of excellence in research with moral insight."
He continued, saying that he is "especially proud to receive this degree from Bar-Ilan University, which represents the aspiration to combine innovation and morality with a commitment to Zionism and the Jewish people -- an aspiration that naturally speaks to my heart.”
Dr. Zaks graduated from the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa before going on to study medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he received his degree in 1992. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Temple University, and later his fellowship in oncology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
In the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna was the first contender to launch clinical trials in March of last year.
When asked in an interview by Ynet about the first vaccine shipment to land in Israel, Zaks didn't specify the number of doses which would arrive, though he said it was "significant." Instead, he added that the company had been working with the Israeli Health Ministry for months now, and that the shipment "should arrive within the next few days."
In total, six million Moderna vaccines are slated to land in Israel.
Zaks estimated to Ynet that over one million Americans have already received Moderna's vaccine.
Zaks explained in the interview that the advantage of Moderna's vaccine over Pfizer's is that it doesn't require the same freezing temperature — it can be stored in a refrigerator, or even at room temperature, for a few hours.
"This will allow for our vaccines to reach more peripheral areas," due to the necessary travel time, he added.
In the interview, he also reiterated that though the ability to contract coronavirus does significantly go down after a single vaccine dose, it is much more effective after two.
To date, some 2.9 people have received their first dose and another 1.6 million their second — 0.9 million people have their vaccination certificates.
After getting the second Moderna vaccine dose, the company stated that four weeks are necessary for immunity, Zaks noted to Ynet.
The Israeli Health Ministry released a report on Thursday, stating 0.04% (371 out of 715,425) of people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine have actually contracted the virus.  
Immunity is supposed to be ensured a week after receiving the second Pfizer coronavirus vaccine dose.
Zaks said that their studies found that after two vaccines, and the waiting period, antibodies will be strong against the coronavirus for at least six months, and possibly up to a year.
He added that though he can't specify when the shipment of the vaccines will land in Israel, he is planning on landing here himself sometime in March.  
Added Zaks, "Personally, as an Israeli citizen, I am proud of my country for successfully executing their vaccine campaign in such a widespread manner."
In a letter sent to Dr. Zaks upon his selection as recipient of an honorary doctorate, Prof. Zaban added, “The Degree Committee, which selected you from among a long list of impressive and worthy candidates, believed that your sense of daring and determination set you apart."
"They expressed a deep admiration for your clear sense of integrity, and the hope that you would serve as a personal example for future scientists and researchers. Through both your actions and values, you embody the best of Bar-Ilan University and inspire us all,” the letter concluded.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.