The Black scientist who helped develop Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine just got her first shot

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 3, 2020 file photo, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, left, senior research fellow and scientific lead for coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team in the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory, talks with President Donald Trump as he tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to grow. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Associated Press

Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, a Black virologist who helped develop Moderna’s vaccine, received her first dose of the coronavirus shot today. 

Corbett told CNN she wants to rebuild trust between Black Americans and medical institutions, broken down by centuries of medical racism and abuse.

Prominent figures in the fight against COVID-19 like Dr. Anthony Fauci and US Surgeon General Jerome Adams have praised Corbett for her lead role in developing the vaccine and fighting for medical equity.

“Thank you to ⁦@KizzyPhD⁩ and all the scientists, reviewers, and study participants – especially those from minority and/ or vulnerable communities- who made this moment possible,” Adams said when he got his shot.

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Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, a viral immunologist at the National Institute of Health’s Vaccine Research Center responsible for co-developing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, celebrated today after getting her first shot of the vaccine. 

The 34-year-old documented the process on her Instagram Story, posting an email notification of her appointment to receive the vaccine and a picture of her rolling up her sleeve to receive it. 

“Because I made the informed choice to get vaccinated, there will be a 94.5% reduced risk, I’ll get COVID-19. And… that’s pretty cool if you ask me,” Corbett wrote in her Instagram Story. 

@kizzyphd/Instagram Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett documented her first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Instagram.

Corbett and her team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health worked fervently over the last 11 months to develop a viable vaccine in record time. In May, Corbett told CNN a vaccine could be ready for the general public by spring 2021. 

Now, 2.1 million Americans have already received their first doses of a vaccine from either Pfizer or Moderna. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed. 

However, public health experts have been warning for months that the legacy of medical racism in the US might stand as a barrier to equitable vaccination across the US. It’s an issue Corbett has been calling attention to, as she tries to instill trust in the vaccine by posting about it on social media. 

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“This overarching mistrust of the medical institution, in general, is something that is being highlighted now because of the dire circumstances of which we’re in,” Corbett told CNN. “But it is not news to me, because I’m Black and I have a Black family and I am well-read on the history of injustice when it comes to medicine in the Black community.”

Corbett wants to rebuild trust between Black Americans and a medical system that discriminates against communities of color 

According to a Pew Research survey released December 4, while 63% percent of white Americans, 83% of English-speaking Asian Americans, and 61% of Latinx Americans report they will get the vaccine, only 42% percent of Black Americans report they will receive the vaccine. A Kaiser study released December 15 found 35% of Black Americans say they will probably or definitely not receive the vaccine. 

Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, point to centuries of racist medical abuse, from the forced sterilization of women of color to develop birth control to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, that have caused many Black Americans to be wary of medical institutions. 

Anticipating the disparity, both Pfizer and Moderna intentionally tried to increase the number of Black participants in the trial phases of their vaccines, Insider’s Taylor Ardrey previously reported.  

“The first step is that scientists and physicians and vaccine developers and et cetera, 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,” Corbett told CNN.

Praise for Corbett from US leaders

Corbett’s role in developing the vaccine and fighting for medical equity has garnered praise from some of the most prominent figures in US pandemic management.

In an online conversation hosted by the National Urban League, Dr. Anthony Fauci praised Corbett for her work in developing the vaccine. 

“So, the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you’re going to be taking was developed by an African American woman. And that is just a fact,” Fauci said.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams thanked Corbett in a tweet showing the public his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

“Thank you to ⁦@KizzyPhD⁩ and all the scientists, reviewers, and study participants – especially those from minority and/ or vulnerable communities- who made this moment possible,” Adams said.

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