Opinions & Features Women December 22, 2020 at 07:30 am

Kizzmekia Corbett helped develop a COVID vaccine – now, she wants Black people to trust her and science

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

Nii Ntreh December 22, 2020 at 07:30 am

December 22, 2020 at 07:30 am | Opinions & Features, Women

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is a senior research fellow at the Vaccine Research Center. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What Kizzmekia Corbett could be feeling at this point in time may be likened to the eternally awe-inspiring opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: these are the best of times, these are the worst of times.

Corbett, 34, has been thrust into fame in a pandemic due, in no small part, to the advocacy of the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. The man, who will be Chief Medical Adviser to the incoming president from January 21, has himself seen his stock risen tremendously due to the success with which he carried out his role as a member of the COVID-19 Task Force set up by President Donald Trump.

Corbett is a lead researcher at the Vaccine Research Center, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health ( in Maryland. A native of North Carolina, Corbett received a B.Sc. in Biological Sciences and Sociology from the University of Maryland in 2008.

Six years later, while only 28, she received a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina. It was the culmination of a life-long dream to become a bonafide scientist.

“I think my love for science and solving problems came from childhood. I was the student who would not leave a math problem unsolved. I won regional science fairs all the way from elementary school and onward,” Corbett told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in a recent interview.

When Moderna announced on November 16, a week after Pfizer’s similar announcement, that they had invented a vaccine with a high degree of efficacy against the virus, Corbett’s input was bound to come to light.

Dr. Fauci, in a number of interviews over the last few weeks, mentioned Corbett’s work in partnership with Moderna to develop the vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The veteran physician had tried to speak the issue of vaccine skepticism among African-Americans, falling on the contribution of Corbett to make a convincing case.

“[T]e 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. And that is just a fact,” Dr. Fauci said in a virtual conversation with the National Urban League.

Vaccine skepticism among African-Americans is usually attributed to the painful history of American medical research that took Black bodies for granted and caused the ailment and deaths of thousands of Black people. The disastrous Tuskegee Syphilis Study which began in 1932 lives in the collective memory of Black America.

Corbett has become a sort of rockstar scientist afterward, with the general conversation swell bordering on different aspects of her life. She has since tweeted her gratitude to Dr. Fauci.

But Corbett also understands the responsibilities with the new privilege she has attained. These responsibilities include educating Americans, especially Black Americans, against the perpetuation of vaccine skepticism.

She told Gupta: “[T]his overarching mistrust of the medical institution, in general, is something that is being highlighted now because of the dire circumstances of which we’re in. But it is not news to me, because I’m Black and I have a Black family and I am well-read on the history of injustice when it comes to medicine in the Black community.”

Conclusively, Corbett places the onus on scientists to raise their “level of trustworthiness” for the public to believe them, adding that trust “has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion.”

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