Immigrants get the vaccine done!
In the musical Hamilton, there’s a pivotal moment where Alexander Hamilton, played in the original cast by the show’s writer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the Marquis de Lafayette, celebrate the victory over the British in Yorktown. The West Indian-born Hamilton and the French-born Lafayette high five, saying: “Immigrants. We get the job done.”
I was thinking of this when looking at the story of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by German company BioNTech with the support of US pharma giant Pfizer. BioNTech is led by a husband and wife team of scientists, Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin, both of who are children of Turkish “Gastarbeiter”, immigrant workers invited to Germany to help power the country’s economic recovery. Sahin was born in Turkey but moved to Germany when he was four, Türeci was born in Germany.
Western counties are happy to celebrate the achievements of people who have moved to their countries, but quick to blame them for ills that are often not their fault. Look at our sports teams. The British media has a cynical relationship with Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City and England forward who was born in Jamaica. It’s even more marked in the German press, where the darling of the back pages during the FIFA World Cup victory in 2014 and another child of Gasterbeiter, Mesut Özil, cited racism for the reactions to his less than stellar performances and retirement from the national team.
The narrative that has surrounded Brexit is that immigrants drain the UK economy, with the Home Secretary (herself the daughter of immigrants) hailing the end of free movement from the EU. Yet recent research from Oxford Economics suggested that European immigrants contribute over £2000 a year more to the UK economy that British citizens.
As the grandchild and great-grandchild of immigrants, I’m conscious both of my roots and the welcome Britain has given me. This is a country in a large part built by immigrants who got the job done. Think of that when you queue up for your vaccine.