Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett: The Scientist Behind COVID-19 Vaccine Development

By Duchess Magazine

Kizzmekia Corbett, PhD, is a marvel in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, playing a crucial role in the development of the Moderna vaccine in 2020. Working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Corbett’s efforts were instrumental in creating a vaccine that has proven to be 94.1% effective against the virus. Her involvement at the forefront of vaccine development has been hailed as a beacon of hope for young scientists by Anthony Fauci, MD.

From the age of 16, Corbett began her career in science when she interned at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She went on to become a Meyerhoff scholar and NIH scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where she earned her BS in Biological Sciences with a secondary major in sociology in 2008. She then pursued a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology at UNC, focusing on understanding antibody responses following dengue virus infection.

Before joining Harvard, Corbett spent seven years as a research fellow at the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC), where she was the scientific lead for the coronavirus vaccine team. Her expertise in viral immunology was instrumental in informing influenza and coronavirus vaccine design, leading to the development of the first-in-human SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, mRNA-1273 (Moderna’s “SpikeVax”). This vaccine entered Phase 1 clinical trial just 66 days after the release of the SARS-CoV-2 sequence and is now approved in multiple countries.

In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Corbett is passionate about mentoring young scientists and advocating for STEM education in underserved communities. She is also involved in community STEM activism and public service, including outreach to vaccine “inquisitive” communities.

Corbett’s groundbreaking work has earned her several prestigious awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Next Gen Award and the Salzman Memorial Award in Virology. She was named a National Honoree in USA TODAY’s Women of the Year in 2022 and was featured in Time magazine’s 2021 “Time100 Next” list under the category of Innovators.

Born in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina, Corbett grew up in Hillsborough and attended Orange High School. She credits her fourth-grade teacher, Myrtis Bradsher, for recognizing her talent early on and encouraging her to pursue advanced classes. Corbett’s dedication to science and public health has made her a trailblazer in the field of virology, inspiring future generations of scientists to follow in her footsteps.

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