February 28, 2022 

Honoring a COVID Vaccine Pioneer

By James A. Kearney

Black History Month serves as a yearly reminder that many racial inequities which existed at the inception of what would later become Black History Month remain ever-present today. And, while racial inequality continues to permeate throughout our entire American society, that inequality is ever recognizable in the legal profession. Hall Prangle & Schoonveld, LLC ("HPS), is committed to not only honoring Black History Month, but to diversifying its workforce and to working towards eliminating systemic racism in the legal profession.

In 1915, a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, along with a prominent minister, Jesse E. Morland, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The organization sought to unearth and promote the accomplishments of African Americans. In 1926, the group sponsored a national Negro History week, which coincided with the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas. The event resulted in local celebrations across the nation.

Over the next several decades, city mayors around the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing "Negro History Week.” By the late 1960s, Negro History Week began to be celebrated as Black History Month on many college campuses. Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. When doing so, President Ford called upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."1

Each year, Black History Month is celebrated with an accompanying theme. This year's theme pays tribute to medical scholars and healthcare providers. Because HPS is in the business of defending medical professionals and institutions in medical negligence cases, this year's Black History Month theme is befitting for the type of legal work that HPS attorneys and staff engage in daily. Accordingly, HPS wanted to embrace this year's Black History Month theme by recognizing an African American scientist that has made substantial contributions to the field of medicine and science.

Although over a century has passed since Carter Woodson helped found the ASNLH, HPS wanted to take a moment to honor and recognize another prominent figure with a recent connection to Harvard University: Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett. Dr. Corbett is an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a position she has held since June 2021. Dr. Corbett received her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in 2008. She then received her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014.2

In 2014, Dr. Corbett was appointed to the National Institutes of Health ("NIH"), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). An immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett's NIH work was focused on developing novel coronavirus vaccines.

Then, the world descended into a global pandemic in early 2020, and Dr. Corbett and her team were called upon to help usher the world out of the pandemic.

Dr. Corbett helped develop an mRNA-based vaccine for COVID-19 from viral sequence data in collaboration with Moderna.3 And to anyone who remotely paid attention to the speed of the vaccine rollout, Dr. Corbett helped bring Moderna's vaccine to market in record time. Further, Moderna's vaccine has been distributed to tens of millions of people around the world.4 Simply put, Dr. Corbett's tireless efforts have helped save countless lives.

And, if vaccine development were not enough, Dr. Corbett has sacrificed her free time to abate vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, which have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, by talking about COVID-19 science in these communities.5

Perhaps you carry around your own homage to Dr. Corbett—a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card documenting the Moderna vaccines you have received. Although this pandemic may become endemic (and hopefully soon), we suspect that Dr. Corbett has a busy career ahead of her. Today we honor her and sing her praises. Tomorrow, we strive to emulate Dr. Corbett's tireless dedication and contributions to making this world a better place for all of us.

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/profile/kizzmekia-s-corbett/
  3. https://asm.org/Biographies/Kizzmekia-S-Corbett,-Ph-D
  4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/kizzmekia-corbett-is-just-getting-started/
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00338-y