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Pioneering the Frontlines

Kizzmekia Shanta Corbett (January 26, 1986 - )

Mad Viral Immunologist - Scientist Under the Microscope

Stepping out of the initial shock of the pandemic in 2020, we entered into 2021 with the hopes of a vaccine on the horizon. As the number of positive COVID-19 cases increased steadily, hope began waning, until the introduction of the Moderna vaccine spearheaded by Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. We learn from Dr. Corbett’s story how to properly respond and impact the problems we see in the world around us.

Solving problems and deeply questioning the way the world works was nothing new to young Kizzmekia Corbett. Growing up in Hillsborough, North Carolina, Corbett excelled in school and became fascinated by the possibilities of scientific discovery. She set goals to become like the many inventors and scientists that were recorded in her textbooks.

In 2008, Corbett graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) earning her B.S. in biological sciences and sociology. In graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Corbett focused her laboratory research studying the genetics and mechanism of human antibodies against viral attacks. In 2014, she received a PhD in microbiology and immunology and began working at the highly esteemed National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a viral immunologist.

When the novel coronavirus dreadfully debuted in 2020, scientists became increasingly popular as labs all over the globe rushed to understand and defend against this new viral attack. However, the NIH lab was set apart from all others because of their secret weapon, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who had experience researching viral surface proteins and immune responses.

Once in the lab, Corbett utilized her previous knowledge and led her team in revolutionizing a new vaccine technique while also initiating America’s rescue plan for the pandemic. Corbett’s groundbreaking discoveries and scientific innovation has secured her dream of inventing something that would be written about in textbooks for years to come. However, I would challenge that Corbett’s most significant contribution to society would be her outreach and advocacy for bridging the gap between healthcare and minority communities.

According to the NAACP, only 12% of African Americans believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe. Dr. Corbett has used her educational and professional accomplishments to serve and educate the African American community about the truth behind vaccines and public health. Today, Dr. Corbett continues her research in vaccinations and immunity as a member of the NIH Fellowship committee while also advocating for minorities in STEM careers.

We all have the opportunity to change the world if we start by first changing and impacting the environment around us. We learn from Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett that it is possible to become the change you want to see.

"The first step is that scientists, physicians and vaccine developers, etc., is to understand that the onus of this problem is not on [communities of color] and their distrust; it is on us and our level of trustworthiness. And so, trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion.” - Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett

Philippians 2:3-4 – ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.’

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