She took a call from the loading dock: your package is here.
Interestingly, the package didn’t arrive by plane. This package was placed on a truck and given a special ride from Boston to Bethesda.
Can you bring it up? She asked.
No, they said. You have to come downstairs and meet the driver. And bring your ID. We can only give the package to you.
I imagine she ran all the way.
She is young (just now 35), and thoroughly a member of the selfie generation. She asked the driver to take a photo of her with the box.
And he’s like, no ma’am, that’s not my job.
Elated, she took the box back to her lab, where 250 little mousies awaited. The box contained doses of covid-19 vaccine, developed using her science research.
Each little mousie was about to get a jab.
And the young woman was about to save the world.
Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. She’s young and she’s brilliant, and she is the lead researcher in the NIH Vaccine Research Center’s lab for development of coronavirus vaccines. She is the primary scientist behind Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine.
Unbelievably, in just a few months, a scientific concept in Dr. Corbett’s laboratory became a nationally distributed vaccine that is 94 percent effective.
It was far from beginner’s luck.
Dr. Corbett had been studying coronaviruses for more than six years when the covid-19 pandemic struck. Her attention was on vaccines for MERS and SARS – coronaviruses that put the world on the edge of a pandemic but stopped just short.
December 31, 2019: a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus is reported in China. Emails to Dr. Corbett from Anthony Fauci and Barney Graham (Corbett’s boss at the Vaccine Research Center) arrived in January.
“Buckle up,” they told her.
January 10, 2020: researchers published the DNA sequence of the coronavirus that causes covid-19.
Sixty-six days later, a vaccine developed in Dr. Corbett’s lab entered phase 1 testing in humans.
That speedy timeline makes some people really nervous.
When questioned about the worry some have regarding the speed of the vaccine from lab to arms, Dr. Corbett gave a surprising answer.
It could have been faster.
We didn’t quite get there for a MERS or SARS vaccine, she says, but if we had, we could have shortened the time to a covid vaccine. But, she’s quick to say, that research got us ready for covid-19.
Kizzmekia Corbett is a science rock star. And Kizzmekia Corbett is a scientist of deep faith. She is a Christian who makes no secret of her love for Jesus.
Dr. Corbett sleeps very little these pandemic days and works seven days a week, but like many of us, she stops on Sunday to watch a recorded church service. But unlike most of us, she spends the remainder of the day analyzing mountains of data.
Dr. Corbett feels a deep sense of obligation to community health. She sees her work in vaccine development as a way to love her neighbor as herself. She calls it “vaccine community service”.
Here’s Dr. Corbett:
“My religion tells me why I should want to help people, make the world a better place. Science shows me how to study the coronavirus and do the work that one day, hopefully, will prevent people from dying of covid-19.”
Kizzmekia was the kid who entered and won all the school science fairs. When the Nobel prizes were announced, she wrote speeches and delivered them out loud, with pomp and spectacle and dramatic tears.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and where the buck stops regarding all things pandemic, recently said that Dr. Corbett and Dr. Barney Graham were already in discussions for “prizes”.
Kizzmekia, I hope you kept those speeches.