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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black Woman is the Lead Scientist in Charge of Developing the COVID-19 Vaccine


Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett is an American viral immunologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) leading the charge to develop the vaccine against the coronavirus. She is leading the efforts for a COVID-19 vaccine as not only the only black woman on the team but also at the lead scientist.

Evan Vucci / AP

Dr. Corbett’s research started back in January with other researchers when there were reports of a unique sickness that shared similarities with pneumonia. The doctors of the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Maryland began working on the vaccine that can take anywhere up to two years.  By using what Corbett calls the “plug and play” she and her team are able to use the template for the SARS vaccine since the coronavirus is within the same family, allowing them to swap the genetic code to make it more acceptable for the COVID-19.

And as of March 16, Dr. Kizzmekia, 34, had begun the phase one clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine, known as mRNA-1273. The first of its kind trial had started at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. It’s the fastest progress ever toward a possible vaccine for a novel pathogen.

During the study, different doses of the experimental vaccine for safety and induced immunity in participants will be evaluated. If she and her team’s vaccine can pass the phase one, two and three clinical trials and is proved to be a safe, working vaccine, COVID-19 could become a preventable disease and the vaccine could become available in hospitals by early to mid-2021.

Evan Vucci / AP

“There was, and is, already a fair amount of pressure,” Corbett told NBC News. “A lot of people are banking on us or feel that we have a product that could, at least, be part of the answer this world needs. And, well, whew, just saying that out loud is not easy.”

The North Carolina native studied biology and sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. From there, she earned a doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2014.

To follow Dr. Corbett’s journey, follow her on Twitter.