During Black History Month (and every day!), we celebrate Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, A Nerdy Girl hero who developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Corbett is a 37 year old Black American scientist. Until 2021 she was 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, where she was the lead scientist for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team. In May 2021, Dr. Corbett joined the faculty at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is now an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
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.
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.”
Read more about Dr. Corbett here.