Imagine being the only person in the room who looked like you. You’re physically there, but your presence is not seen by all around you. You are just as qualified as all who are in the room, and lack a need to show just how talented and brilliant you are as you know your vision will speak loud and clear for itself. What is your vision, you ask? A vaccine to prevent the spread of 2020’s novel coronavirus.
Let us introduce you to Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the leading force from the National Institutes of Health team, who’s working day in and day out to find a vaccine for the coronavirus. Born in North Carolina, Corbett would show at a young age just how bright she was. With potential being seen by not only her mother but also her 3rd grade teacher, academics would be a top priority for Corbett’s promising future. Graduating from the University of Maryland, Corbett was accepted into the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, where she would major in biology and sociology. She would later receive her doctorates from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2014 and eventually make her way to become a senior research fellow at National Institutes of Health, working under Dr. Barney Graham.
In the worlds of science and medicine, there is typically a general audience seen with a majority being older Caucasian males seen in some of the most powerful positions. To some this may be intimidating, and to others this may be disappointing with the lack of diversity still being an issue in positions of power. To Corbett, being not only a woman, but an African American woman, she is a breakthrough barrier showing that any gender and race can achieve anything once you have your heart and mind set on it – even if it is a goal as big and historical such as creating a vaccine for the novel virus.
It was not until 2014, when Corbett would join NIH’ s Vaccine Research Center as a postdoctoral fellow, would she turn her attention to coronaviruses. With knowledge about the outbreaks of two coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, Corbett says it was only a matter of time before another outbreak of a coronavirus happened again.
Approximately two weeks after the United States had reported cases of the coronavirus appearing, Corbett and her team began first-stage clinical trials of a promising vaccine to help combat the virus. The vaccine was not only created in record time but also the first to be created at that time. Following Corbett and her team’s lead, researchers in China, Germany, the United States and several other countries would begin to look at different vaccines options as well.
Corbett’s team has great faith in their leader. Her colleagues describe her as not only a hard worker but also a great problem solver, who’s not afraid to change course if needed and with critical thinking being one of her best skills. “Fate has put her in a position to make a huge difference in human health, and it has made a good choice,” says Professor Ralph Baric. With Baric’s experience of studying coronaviruses for over 35 years, he has been able to witness Corbett’s doctorial research and be a part of her development team for the vaccine.
If the vaccine created by Corbett’s team is successful in all phases of clinical trials (phase one, two, and three proving to be safe and effective), the use of the vaccine could be seen in doctor’s offices by the middle of next year, 2021, with COVID-19 moving from a novel virus to a preventable disease.