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Meet the black female scientist at the forefront of developing vaccines against COVID-19



When President Donald Trump paid visit to the National Institutes of Health last March, leaders at the Vaccine Research Center explained their rescue mission. The key to this mission was a 34-year-old doctor named Dr. Kizmekia Corbett.

“I was just there telling the task force about the work we’ve done,” Corbett told CBS host this morning: Saturday, Michelle Miller.

Two weeks after the visit, the Corbett team began the first phase of clinical trials. She said they have taken much of the knowledge they have gained over the past six years and applied it to a vaccine platform in collaboration with Moderna. The vaccine was released 1

0 months later.

“The vaccine teaches the body how to repel a virus because it teaches it how to look for the virus, in fact it just shows the body the protein of the virus,” she explained. “Then the body says, ‘Oh, we’ve seen this protein before.’ Let’s fight him. ” That’s how it works. “

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

“The vaccine you are going to take was developed by an African-American woman, and that’s 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 Covid-19 vaccine. This number is expected to grow every day, although it is well behind what public health experts had hoped to see.

Corbett’s interest in science began at an early age, but she never knew what the difference would be.

“Honestly, I didn’t realize the level of impact my visibility could have … I’m doing my job because I love my job,” Corbett said.

One opportunity in her life made a key difference. She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as a Fellow of Meyerhoff, an aggressive program that mentored minorities and women in science. Graduates of the program include Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski has been president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, for nearly 30 years. He said Corbett had strong scientific experience, but the way she could talk to people set her apart.

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

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18% of all students complete a STEM degree, and 2% are black, something Hrabovski believes needs to change.

“It’s important for people to see people who look like them, like themselves, who can be involved. If it’s women or blacks, because it shows that you have people who understand what you’ve been through.”

Dr. Barney Graham and Corbett have been working together for more than 15 years. Graham is not just her mentor. He is also head of Corbett as deputy director of the Center for Vaccine Research.

“When you acknowledge that someone has special qualities, you need to do things that can interfere with those other things and avoid some of the neglect that often happens not only to people from minorities, but also to women,” Graham said.

Historically, bias affects not only professionals in the field, but also those they serve. In 1931, scientists conducted an experiment on Tuskegee’s syphilis, a study by the Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute. He examined the progression of syphilis, leaving infected black men untreated without taking into account the suffering it caused.

Another commonly cited example is the removal of special cells from Henreta Lax, a cancer patient in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1951, a research team at Johns Hopkins University removed Lacks cells without her permission and used them in medical research worth billions of dollars. Lack died of cancer and her family was never compensated.

“There are many other examples of supposedly objective scientists who care about anyone who values ​​colored people less … This is a painful truth,” Hrabovski said.

Corbett’s understanding of socio-cultural issues and her knowledge of science made her an influential figure in the scientific community.

At a time when skepticism about vaccines is high among African Americans, Corbett hopes that black people will trust the vaccine and the faith of scientists working behind the scenes to bring it to the American people.

“Number one is that I understand it. And then number two is really to take advantage of the level of transparency we’re trying to … I haven’t even seen it before, like. FDA hearings and briefings are broadcast online, and the data comes out almost instantly, “she said.

As for Dr. Hrabowski, he believes that Corbett deserves all the visibility he can get.

“She can’t be a hidden figure,” he said. “She has to be in textbooks. Little girls have to see her – of all races. It’s possible.”


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