Survived COVID? Thank a North Carolina-Born Scientist Named Kizzmekia

Kizzmekia Corbett, a North Carolina-born immunologist with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Health, played a pivotal role in developing the Moderna COVID vaccine. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Kimberly Lawson

March 18, 2022

Long before Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s research helped develop America’s anti-COVID vaccines, she stood out from the crowd. 

During the two-year public health crisis that has disproportionately affected Black Americans,  Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett has spent her free time talking COVID-19 science with communities of color. 

“Vaccines have the potential to be the equalizer of health disparities, especially around infectious diseases,” the North Carolina-born immunologist told Nature in 2021. “I could never sleep at night if I developed anything — if any product of my science came out — and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me. Period.”

That’s one reason we’re so glad to have the opportunity to celebrate Corbett, who grew up in Hillsborough, this Women’s History Month. 

Here are three things you need to know about this noted scientist whose work has impacted millions.

Corbett has always been seen as a rising star. Her teacher at Oak Lane Elementary in Hurdle Mills, NC, reportedly told Corbett’s mom during a parent-teacher conference: “She’s so far above other children. We need to send her to a class for exceptional students.”

Her response to the most important North Carolina sports question any interviewer could ever ask? “Are you serious?” she told a magazine recently. “UNC.”

Sorry, Duke. She did, after all, receive a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Chapel Hill. 

Corbett played a key role in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She worked at the US National Institutes of Health before accepting the opportunity last year to lead her own lab in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, wrote in Time magazine’s 2021 “Time100 Next” edition: “[H]er work will have a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years.”


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