Black History Highlight: Meet Viral Immunologist and Lead COVID-19 Vaccine Scientist, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett!

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Meet the Black female scientist at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett!

She is one of the key scientists behind the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Corbett worked closely with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Moderna vaccine was developed in Dr. Fauci’s institute vaccine research center, and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was the lead scientist on the team.

Dr. Corbett opened up about her medical journey in a recent CNN podcast titled, Coronavirus: Fact or Fiction with journalist Sanjay Gupta.

Check out some of the highlights from the interview below:

Gupta: The vaccine normally takes years and for some infections like HIV, we still don’t have a vaccine 40 years later. How did you know?

Corbett: Well, you know, there was a lot of faith in those initial statements, but then also a lot of science. The HIV field, for example, has made a vast amount of developments over the last 40 years without there being a vaccine. The work that the HIV field has done has, in some part, actually benefitted the work that we’ve done in coronaviruses. So, we understood the surface molecule, the spike of a coronavirus, in so much intricate detail. And we had such a good understanding of how to deliver that spike protein via mRNA that we were fairly confident that we would be very quick to get into a Phase 1, which we did. But then, from there, that we would be able to work together to fuel this vaccine development trajectory, really out of necessity and also science. The necessity feeds into the HIV field, but the science hasn’t necessarily gotten there yet. And so that’s really the difference.

Gupta: Where did this start for you? How did it come about? Tell us about your background.

Corbett: I think my love for science and solving problems came from childhood. I was the student who would not leave a math problem unsolved. I won regional science fairs all the way from elementary school and onward. And so, asking questions about the way the world turns, essentially, I like to think of it as somewhat of my purpose in life. And having been exposed to science from a laboratory perspective very early and getting a glimpse of what that looked like, by way of internships in high school, I think I it became clear to me that being a scientist is something that I could do and something that would be fun for me.

Then from a vaccine development standpoint, I think my love of discovery in science melded with my empathetic nature for people. And having studied health disparities from a sociological standpoint in college, and at the same time being in a vaccine lab and seeing how the two really could benefit from one another, helped me to say, ‘Well, if I’m going to be asking questions, I might as well ask some questions that inform vaccine development so that I can really have a translatable way that can help people in masse.

Make sure you tune in on February 4 at 7p EST as Dr. Anothony Fauci and Kizzmekia Corbett address all of your COVID-19 vaccine concerns, during the first edition of the WBLS Black History Month Virtual Series, airing right HERE.

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