Orange County is celebrating Jan. 20 as “Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett Day” after the Board of County Commissioners adopted a proclamation honoring the county native who played a key role in developing one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“We declare Wednesday, Jan. 20, as Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett Day in recognition of her remarkable accomplishments in the sciences and medicine, in acknowledgement of her unprecedented research and success in thwarting a life-threatening pandemic, and in honor of her compassionate dedication to the health, safety and well-being of humanity,” said Orange County Board of County Commissioners Chair Renee Price.
Dr. Corbett is currently a research fellow in the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Vaccine Research Center. She grew up in the Cedar Grove community and attended Orange County Schools.
Dr. Corbett appeared at the meeting via Zoom and thanked the Board for its recognition. “The work does not stop,” she said. “It’s tiresome, but I’m happy to be acknowledged for it. This moment for my life and career is gratifying, but people are dying. There is a large amount of vaccine hesitancy that rests as a burden on my shoulders. I have committed myself to the effort, and not just from the vaccine design standpoint. At this point this vaccine is the only thing that will change the trajectory of the pandemic.”
After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology, in 2008 from the University of Maryland- Baltimore County, Dr. Corbett earned her Doctorate of Philosophy in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014.
Dr. Corbett was subsequently appointed to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory in 2014, and has focused her work on developing novel coronavirus vaccines, including mRNA-1273, which has become a primary vaccine against the virus that causes COVID- 19.
in response to the COVID- 19 pandemic, Dr. Corbett and her team designed the vaccine concept incorporated in mRNA-1273 from viral sequence and rapidly deployed to Moderna, Inc., for FDA-approved Phase 1 clinical trial, which began only 66 days from the viral sequence release. The vaccine was shown to be 94.1% effective in a Phase 3 trial and received Emergency Use Authorization in December.
It was one of the first two vaccines developed in the United States in response to the pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, touted Corbett’s role during a December event sponsored by the National Urban League.
"That vaccine was actually developed in my institute's vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett," Fauci said.
During an appearance on a CNN podcast, Dr. Corbett said she hoped she could help allay fears held by members of the Black community who don’t trust the vaccine.
“Trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion,” she said in an episode of Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction. “And so, what I say to people firstly is that I empathize, and then secondly is that I'm going to do my part in laying those bricks. And I think that if everyone on our side, as physicians and scientists, went about it that way, then the trust would start to be rebuilt.”
Corbett lamented that stopping the virus had become a political football and urged everyone to continue to do their part by wearing masks, washing your hands and staying distant.
“One of the things this virus is doing is teaching us how to be human,” she said. “Every single thing we can do to prevent this virus from spreading and to prevent this virus from killing people, all it takes is a little bit of tenderness. All you have to do is wear a mask and stay away from your grandma for a little bit. To allow a microscopic microbe that doesn’t even have a brain to outthink us is absolutely absurd and disappointing. I just want each person to do their part.”