A: After 6 years of working on a vaccine for novel corona viruses Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett and her team found success. She is our nerdy-girl Pandemic Hero this week.
Dr. Corbett is a 34 year old Black American scientist. She is a viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health based in Bethesda, Maryland. She is the lead scientist for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team.
Kizzy Corbett developed her love of science as a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar at University of Maryland—Baltimore, County. After graduating with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and a secondary degree in Sociology, she was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2014, she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 18% of all US graduates complete college with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees. Only 2% of those graduates are Black Americans.
Under the leadership of Dr. Corbett the team at the NIH worked for 6 years on the development of novel coronavirus vaccines in anticipation of a pandemic just like the one we are experiencing now. After 10 months of collaboration with Moderna in 2020, her team was ready to launch the vaccine we have available today.
Dr. Corbett says, ”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.”
When asked about the impact of her work, Dr. Corbett said, “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.”
Her hopes of addressing disease is not limited to novel coronaviruses. She continues work simultaneously on a universal influenza vaccine, dengue virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. We will benefit from her career for years to come.
As a student at the University of Maryland—Baltimore, County, Dr. Kizzy Corbett caught the attention of the president Dr. Freeman Hrabowski who has been president there for nearly 30 years. When he reflected on the young student and her recent accomplishments, he stated, “She cannot be a hidden figure. She needs to be in textbooks. Little girls need to see her — of all races. He says that little girls everywhere need to know, “This is what’s possible.”
Follow Dr. Corbett on Twitter @kizzyphd