Black woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, developed scientific approach to coronavirus vaccine

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease doctor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the African American community’s fears of accepting the new coronavirus vaccine.

“To my African American brothers and sisters: This vaccine that you’re gonna be taking was developed by an African American woman. And that is just a fact,” Dr. Fauci said during a recent National Urban League event.

Dr. Fauci noted that Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black woman, has been at the forefront of the vaccine process.

He added that it is vital to recognize the U.S.’s history of racism that’s led to great mistrust from the Black community.

Dr. Fauci proclaimed that the vaccine is safe.

“The very vaccine that’s one of the two that has absolutely exquisite levels, 94% to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease that are shown to be clearly safe—that vaccine was actually developed in my institute’s vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Corbett, 34, is an accomplished research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC).

According to her biography, Dr. Corbett received a B.S. in ‘biological sciences,’ with a secondary major in ‘sociology,’ in 2008 from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar.

She then enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in ‘microbiology and immunology’ in 2014.

A viral immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett is known for using her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness.

Appointed to the VRC in 2014, her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines.

Dr. Corbett has 15 years of expertise studying dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronaviruses.

Along with her research activities, Dr. Corbett is an active member of the NIH Fellows Committee and an avid advocator of STEM education and vaccine awareness in the community.

“History books will celebrate the name and achievements of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the Black woman who was the leader in developing the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Barbara Arnwine, president/founder of Transformative Justice Coalition, wrote on Twitter.

“She developed the specific scientific approach to mitigating the coronavirus.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African Americans, who make up a large percentage of the more than 4000,000 U.S. residents to die from the virus.

One study released by the COVID Collaborative, the NAACP and UnidosUS revealed that only 14% of Black Americans trust the vaccine is safe, and 18% trust it is effective.

Much of the concern stems from pervasive racism in medical research and healthcare, notably the 1932 Tuskegee experiment.

“I would say to people who are vaccine-hesitant that you’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process,” Dr. Corbett told CNN.

“Trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. And so what I say to people first is that I empathize—and then secondly, is that I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks. I think that if everyone on our side, as physicians and scientists, went about it that way, then the trust would start to be rebuilt.”