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Drew: Meet The Black Scientist Behind the Moderna Vaccine

By Samuetta Hill Drew

In 2016, Hollywood featured a film which made Americans aware of three African American women who were behind the scenes at NASA, yet key to the launching of astronaut John Glenn’s orbit into outer space. His launching was one of the greatest events in history. The movie was entitled “Hidden Figures” and it highlighted how their mathematical genius helped to calculate John Glenn’s outer space flight.
March is National Women’s Month. With the world being in the middle of a pandemic, this article will feature a “Visible Figure,” Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Her work is instrumental in the fight against the Coronavirus COVID-19. She has had an enormous impact on helping to end a virus deemed as the “worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years.”
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, affectionately called “Kizzy” Corbett, is a 34-year-old African American scientist who was a key developer behind the Moderna vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, credited Corbett during a webinar for her work. He stated, “The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is a fact.”
Dr. Kizzmekia Shanta Corbett was born in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina and grew up in Hillsborough, North Carolina where she attended public schools. As a student, her teachers said she showed a great deal of promise. She was selected to participate in Project SEED, a program for gifted minority students that allowed her to study chemistry in labs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) which eventually landed her a full scholarship to the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
She spent her summers at laboratories and earned a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH would become the actual location where she would develop a vaccine for the coronavirus COVID-19.
After graduating, Corbett enrolled in a doctorate program at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she worked as a research assistant studying virus infections and ultimately received a PhD in microbiology and immunology.
Corbett said her team took a lot of knowledge they have gained in the last six years and applied it to a vaccine platform in collaboration with Moderna. The vaccine rolled out 10 months later. She further stated, “The vaccine teaches the body how to fend off a virus, because it teaches the body how to look for the virus by basically just showing the body the spike protein of the virus.” She explained, “The body then says, “Oh, we’ve seen this protein before. Let’s go fight against it. That’s how it works.”
Dr. Freeman Hrabowski has been president of the University of Maryland Baltimore, for nearly 30 years. He said, “[Corbett] cannot be a hidden figure. She needs to be in textbooks. Little girls need to see her – of all races. This is what’s possible.”
We applaud women like Dr. Kizzmekia Shanta Corbett for helping Keep an Eye on Safety for us all.