Dec. 14, 2020 -- Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, is among the National Institutes of Health scientists working directly to develop and produce the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
She is also an African American woman, who has been praised by top infectious disease experts for her role in the vaccine’s development. Corbett is the National Institute of Health's lead scientist for coronavirus vaccine research.
“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," Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a National Urban League forum last week, ABC News reported.
Corbett in March was among the NIH scientists who met with President Donald Trump to discuss the coronavirus, which had not yet begun to decimate the United States. She told ABC that being part of that meeting was important for young scientists and people of color.
"I felt like it was necessary to be seen and to not be a hidden figure, so to speak," Corbett said. "I felt that it was important to do that because the level of visibility that it would have to younger scientists and also to people of color who have often worked behind the scenes and essentially [who have] done the dirty work for these large efforts toward a vaccine."
Corbett, who earned her doctorate from the University of North Carolina, is also an important symbol for the vaccine’s safety, Fauci said.
"So, the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you're going to be taking was developed by an African American woman," he said. "And that is just a fact.
Corbett’s work is also important in a country where Black students are less likely to enter fields in science, technology, engineering, and math -- the so-called STEM fields.
The magazine Undark, a nonprofit that studies the intersection of science and society, analyzed decades of reports from the National Science Foundation. It found that the percentage of STEM-related bachelor’s degrees awarded to Black students increased for decades and peaked in the early 2000s. But since then, despite federal spending on diversity initiatives, Undark found that those percentages have started to fall again.