Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD led the National Institutes of Health team that developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Currently an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and recently named one of Time magazine’s 2021 Heroes of the Year, Corbett joins Washington Post senior writer Frances Stead Sellers to discuss the rise of the omicron variant and the development, current use and future possibilities of the groundbreaking mRNA vaccine technology.

Highlights

“I actually call it the ‘Oh my God’ variant rather than the omicron variant… Variants are coming because we are allowing the virus to circulate around the globe continuously, and so as the virus circulates, the virus makes copies of itself, and it makes copies of itself that get better in whatever way is possible for… the virus to come back around and do a little bit more harm.” (Washington Post Live)
“If we were to allow the virus that causes covid-19 to circulate around this globe and for every person to build up quote-unquote ‘natural immunity,’ 40 million people around the world would potentially die.” (Washington Post Live)
“This moment has met me with some level of despair as we think about how well we did with getting these vaccines out and approved in a safe and effective manner, but not really getting the type of uptake that we would expect of hope for… And a lot of that comes from the so-called ‘vaccine hesitancy.’ And so I would hope that we would have done better… started conversations with people earlier.” (Washington Post Live)
“The risk assessment that people have for themselves, right, ‘I’m an adult… sure I’ll get the vaccine... But the risk assessment for my child might be just a little bit different.’ There is some level of tenderness that comes from that decision, from a parents standpoint. So having children speak up for themselves… helped.” (Washington Post Live)

Kizzmekia S. Corbett, PhD

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was the scientific lead of the Vaccine Research Center’s coronavirus team at the U.S. National Institutes of Health where she studied coronavirus biology and vaccine development. Those 6 years of research led to the groundbreaking discovery that a stabilized version of a spike protein, which is found on the surface of all coronaviruses, would be a key target for vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her colleagues were central to the development of the Moderna mRNA vaccine and the Eli Lilly therapeutic monoclonal antibody, both of which were first to enter clinical trials in the world. As a result, her work is having a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years. Dr. Corbett is now an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her work now extends beyond the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines to the outlook of this pandemic and future viral pandemics.

Perhaps just as important as her scientific accomplishments, Dr. Corbett has burst onto the public stage as the face of a diverse and rising generation of talented scientists who will transform the world. She is a stellar science communicator, explaining the vaccine and the virus in highly accessible ways to media outlets, two U.S. presidents, and audiences around the