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Lead vaccine developer says she wants to help rebuild trust brick by brick

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Vaccines are on everyone’s minds these days.

As the first shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are administered in the United States, and as Moderna gets closer to authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, a recently released Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows 71% of the public says they definitely or probably would get a vaccine, up from 63% in September. Getting enough of the population vaccinated is key to achieving herd immunity and eventually returning to life as we knew it.

But the numbers are lower for the Black community, which is harder hit –more likely to get infected, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die–than non-Hispanic Whites. According to the same poll, only 62% of Black respondents answered they would be willing to get a vaccine, up from 50% in September.

That may come as no surprise: Persistent inequities in the health care system, and a long and deep history of racism have resulted in mistrust of the government and of government health initiatives within the Black community.

So, paradoxically, while Blacks have the most to be suspicious about, given past experiences, they may also have the most to gain from coronavirus vaccines, considering the toll this pandemic has disproportionately taken on them.

I recently had a chance to speak with viral immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett about these issues, among many others. If you don’t know her name yet, you probably will soon.

Kizzy, as she likes to be called, is one of the key scientists behind the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. She is a Black woman who, at 34, has been an important voice around many aspects of the vaccine.
At a recent event hosted by the National Urban League, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, praised the “exquisite levels” of efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and pointed out the Moderna vaccine “was actually developed in my institute’s vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett.”
Kizzy, whom I had interviewed once before back in April, was a guest last weekon my podcast, “Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction.” Here are some excerpts (edited lightly for length and clarity) from our conversation, to give you an idea of the driven scientist behind one of modern medicine’s greatest advances.
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