Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett summarized her work in developing a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine which produced at least 94% efficacy and has saved millions of lives.
But the 36-year-old award-winning scientist, researcher and Harvard University professor said during a Black History Month breakfast Saturday, Feb. 12, her most important work as a health care professional rests as a Black woman.
“I’m from the rural south where elements such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes plagued communities like my own and even plagued my family, said the native of Hillsborough, North Carolina.
“The one thing that remains true is that vaccines happen to be the most life-saving way to prevent disease in this world. They are thought to be the best public health intervention ever,” she said.
Corbett served as keynote speaker for the 41stannual virtual program hosted by Rep. Steny Hoyer representing the 5thCongressional District that represents portions of Prince George’s County and all three counties in Southern Maryland.
Hoyer, who serves as House Majority Leader in Congress, also hosted last year’s program online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program’s first keynote speaker in 1981 featured the late Judge James Taylor, the first Black circuit court judge in Prince George’s County.
“I am really sad that we cannot be together personally – that we cannot shake one another’s hands, giving one another a hug, a smile,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that this is good technology but it doesn’t replace the human interaction that we’ve had for 39 years. Hopefully we will get back to [that] very, very soon.”
The program’s first keynote speaker in 1981 featured the late Judge James Taylor, the first Black circuit court judge in Prince George’s County. Other participants included: the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia); former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Librarian of Congress Carla D. Hayden; and Vice President Kamala Harris, who participated virtually.
This year’s online program also highlighted Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) serving as co-chair to bring community leaders from the 4thCongressional District, which includes the remaining communities of Prince George’s and parts of Anne Arundel County.
The celebration on Saturday also featured members of First Baptist Church of Highland Park of Landover who sang “Life Every Voice and Sing.” Thirkel Freeman, pastor of True Gospel Church Ministry in Waldorf, Charles County, offered the invocation.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), the first Black legislator and first woman to hold the position, serves as leader of the state’s House of Delegates.
“It’s important to remember that Black voters are American voters,” she said in pre-recorded remarks. “Black culture is American culture and Black History is American history. Not just in February but all throughout the year.”
Corbett shared comments reflective of this year’s program theme, “Black Health and Wellness.” She has several connections to Maryland, majoring in biology and sociology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County graduating in 2008. Six years later, she received a doctorate at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
In 2020, she led a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda to conduct trials for a coronavirus vaccine. Her work eventually led to the development of a Moderna vaccine which received worldwide accolades that included an award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. An awards tribute will take place Thursday, Feb. 17 during the association’s annual meeting.
Corbett continues research and manages her own lab at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. As for COVID-19, she encourages Americans to become vaccinated and get a booster shot.
More than 900,000 Americans have died from the virus with 65% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated.
“We need probably closer to 90% to start to see some real level of change [and] immunity in the population,” Corbett said. “Black and brown people actually lag in those statistics but the truth is at some point, we will rise out of this pandemic.”