Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett praised as key scientist behind COVID-19 vaccine

ByTim Pulliam WTVD logo
Friday, December 18, 2020
Black woman from NC praised as key scientist behind vaccine
A Black woman from Orange County will go down in history for leading the effort to solve this global Pandemic.

HURDLE MILLS, North Carolina -- A Black woman from North Carolina will go down in history for leading the effort to solve the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a research fellow and scientific lead at the National Institute of Health, is on the frontlines working with a team of scientists, studying Moderna's vaccine, one of the two COVID-19 vaccines shown to be effective by more than 90 percent.

The drug is expected to receive emergency use authorization by the FDA later this week.

"I want to make it clear that the work that we have been doing for so long I personally stand by it, essentially with all of my being," said Corbett.

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But Pew Research shows only 42 percent of Black people are likely to get vaccinated, compared to 63 percent of Latino people and 61 percent of white people.

One of the reasons is decades of abusive medical tactics on Black people dating back to the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiment of 600 Black men.

"I also understand that there are issues of lack of trustworthiness. I say it in that way because I understand the onus of gaining the public's trust lies in the hands of people like me," said Corbett. "From the vaccine development standpoint and in the institutions where I am employed to earn trust that has been stripped from people over the course of centuries."

That belief of gaining trust and bridging a path has always been with her since her days as a PHD student at UNC, according Dr. Aravinda De Silva, Corbett's mentor and professor of microbiology and immunology.

"Even as a graduate student she was involved in promoting science going to schools, speaking to groups that would not normally consider careers in science," the doctor said.

De Silva says between 2009 and 2014, Corbett studied the human antibody response to viruses, specifically Dengue virus.

Corbett even traveled to Sri Lanka for several months to study that virus. Now she and her team are making history at the forefront of the novel coronavirus.

"I'm very proud, but I also knew that Kizzy would go on and do great things," said De Silva. "She's very levelheaded and handles pressure well."

De Silva expects Corbett will continue her research of COVID-19, but also find ways to get more people of color interested in science.

Right now, her industry is 70 percent white, according to the National Science Foundation.