A young research fellow from the National Institute of Health, Kizzmekia Corbett, is leading the clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine. Colleagues praise her for being 'wonderfully talented.' Dr. Barney Graham, Infectious Disease Specialist, remembers seeing great potential in her back when he met her as an undergraduate, as he recalls her telling him, "I want your job." Corbett was clear from the start that her route included getting a doctorate and ideally working on rapid vaccine development, which delighted Graham.
On March 3, President Donald Trump went to the National Institutes of Health for an update on the progress toward a vaccine for COVID-19. Among the number of scientists who sat behind presidential seal with him were white men well known in the worlds of science, medicine. Among them was Kizzmekia Corbett, the only woman and black person at the table.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, mentioned that om 2003, NIH scientists managed to identify SARS and get a vaccine to stage-one clinical trials in 20 months. This time, a team of scientists led by the 34-year-old Corbett was getting ready to move to first-stage trials for a coronavirus vaccine in about two months.
On March 16, Corbett's team began first-stage clinical trials in search of a COVID-19 vaccine. The trial was the first of its kind in the world and the fastest progress ever toward finding a possible vaccine for the novel pathogen. Forty distinct groups of researchers in China, Germany, the United States, and other countries soon followed noticeably after the initial effort of the NIH team.
Corbett candidly recognizes the pressure being put on their shoulders as many people are investing in them to provide atleast part of the answer the world currently needs. Andrew Ward, a professor at Scripps Research, says that "Kizzy" was the perfect candidate for the job as she is focused on her work and is very hardworking.
The Bright and Brilliant "Kizzy"
Corbett was born in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina, a town of fewer than 4,000 people about 30 minutes south of the Virginia border. Rhonda Brooks, her mother, described her as her "sweet, little, opinionated detective".
Brooks recalls that when their daughter was in the third grade, the teacher told them to do everything they could to make sure their daughter was put on the most demanding academic track.
When it was time for college, Corbett had numerous offers, including from a college known as a Southern party school and another from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Here, she was accepted to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and was offered a full scholarship.
Corbett majored in biology and sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She divided her time between laboratory and fieldwork on health outcomes in diverse communities. After this, she earned a doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2014.
Now she's a fellow at Graham's center, and the leader of the coronavirus vaccine development team. Ralph Baric, a professor in the departments of epidemiology, microbiology, and immunology at the University of North Carolina, claims that "fate has put her in a position to make a huge difference in human health, and it has made a good choice."
Keeping her Life in Balance
With all the stress she's under, Corbett keeps her cool with a few coping strategies. She has a supervisor who believes in her and helps her seek direction or try new approaches. She is also organized, that she's known as "the spreadsheet queen", who plots out everything from clinical trials to her best friends' children's birthdays.
Corbett makes time to check in with her family almost every day. She leans on family and friends as her support system, especially her two grandmothers. She draws out confidence, scientific, and social information from doing the work.