By Micha Green
While the President’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, may have become the face of the United States’ fight against COVID-19, Black women, such as Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, have been at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus.
In fact, the national response to the coronavirus pandemic has been led, in large part, by African-American women responding to the plight of not only their community, but the country at large and overseas.
Corbett was only 34 years old when she emerged as a leader on the COVID-19 vaccine team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She came to national prominence in late 2020, when she was praised by Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH, as one of the key scientists behind the COVID-19 vaccine.
“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,” Fauci said in December 2020 when interrogated about the Black contribution to the vaccine’s creation. “Kizzy is an African-American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine.”
The Moderna vaccine was created with significant guidance from Corbett.
“The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African-American woman, and that is just a fact,” Fauci emphasized in a webinar when educating people about the vaccine in the early stages of its distribution.
Though Corbett may be young, she’s no newbie to the world of infectious diseases and vaccines. As a 10th grader, Corbett was selected to participate in the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED, which promotes learning and growth opportunities for minority students, and now boasts the vaccine’s developer as one of their alumni. Through Project SEED, she studied in chemistry labs at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill and then attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a full scholarship.
Now considered a full circle moment, as a college student, Corbett interned at laboriaties at NIH, the very same place she would later go on to become a history maker in the fight against COVID-19. She then went on to UNC Chapel Hill for a doctorate in immunology and microbiology. There, according to her LinkedIn account, she worked as a research assistant studying the dengue virus infection — a viral infection transmitted to humans through mosquitoes.