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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is the 34-year-old Black Female Doctor Saving Lives with the COVID Vaccine

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett (Photo: Timothy Nwachukwu/The New York Times via Redux)

When President Donald Trump paid a visit to the National Institutes of Health last March, the leads at the vaccine research center explained their life-saving mission. The key to that mission was a 34-year-old doctor named Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett.

“I was just there telling the task force about the work that we’ve been doing,” Corbett told “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Michelle Miller.

Two weeks after the visit, Corbett’s team began the first stage of clinical trials. She said they took a lot of the 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.

“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. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, credited Corbett during a webinar for her work.

“The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact,” Fauci said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 6.5 million Americans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That number is expected to grow daily, though it is well behind what public health experts were hoping to see.

Corbett’s interest in science started from an early age, but she never knew the difference she would make.

“To be honest, I didn’t realize the level of impact that my visibility might have… I do my work because I love my work,” Corbett said.

One opportunity in her life made a key difference. She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as a Meyerhoff Scholar, an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science. Graduates of the program include Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Dr. Freeman Hrabowski has been president at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, for nearly 30 years. He said Corbett had a strong science background but the way she was able to talk to people separated her from the rest.

“She was definitely going to make it in life,” Hrabowski said. “We need more scientists who can connect to people. She could do that when she was 17, easily – What we do at UMBC is to support students of color, Black, but also students in general, to make sure they make it in science.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18% of all students graduate with a STEM degree, among 2% are black — something Hrabowski believes needs to change.

“It’s important for people to see people looking like them, like themselves, who can be involved. If it’s about women, or if it’s about Blacks because it shows that you’ve got people who understand what you’ve gone through.”

Dr. Barney Graham and Corbett have worked together for over 15 years. Graham is not only her mentor. He’s also Corbett’s boss as deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center.


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