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NIH researcher who played key role in COVID-19 vaccine development will join Harvard’s Chan School

President Biden greeted Kizzmekia Corbett (right) during a visit to the National Institutes of health in February. Corbett, who played a key role in the development of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, is heading to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
President Biden greeted Kizzmekia Corbett (right) during a visit to the National Institutes of health in February. Corbett, who played a key role in the development of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, is heading to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Kizzmekia S. Corbett, a federal researcher who was instrumental in the development of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine and has also reached out to the Black community to reduce vaccine hesitancy, will be joining the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the school announced Tuesday.

Corbett, 35, will be an assistant professor and head the new Coronaviruses & Other Relevant Emerging Infectious Diseases Lab, which will study the interface between hosts’ immune systems and viruses that cause respiratory disease, the school said in a statement. The goal will be to inform development of novel and potentially universal vaccines.

“If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that anything is possible,” Corbett, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, said in the statement.

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“Vaccines are the great equalizer when it comes to addressing health disparities, especially around infectious diseases. Harvard Chan School is at the forefront of advancing health equity, and I’m excited to join such distinguished colleagues in my pursuit of viral immunology research and vaccine development,” said Corbett, who will start her new job in June.

She said in a tweet she was “thrilled” by her appointment.

“Kizzmekia is a natural fit here. Her success in the lab is matched only by her commitment to using science to improve people’s lives, especially for communities that have too often been left behind by advances in health care,” said Michelle Williams, a professor dean of the faculty at the Chan School.

Corbett has used her national platform to try to address vaccine hesitancy in the Black community, speaking virtually at churches and other community organizations. She hopes to continue her outreach efforts while in Boston, the school said.

“I’ve basically spent the last year, I guess, fighting against misinformation” about the COVID-19 vaccines, she said. “We think that we can just say, ‘The science is good,’ and people are going to say, ‘OK, yeah, I’ll take the vaccine,’ ” when their questions instead need greater attention, Corbett told The Associated Press .

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She told Nature earlier this year, “I could never sleep at night if I developed anything — if any product of my science came out — and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me. Period.”

Corbett spent six years as a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. Before the pandemic, she was was part of a team that was designing vaccines for other coronaviruses in collaboration with Moderna. When the pandemic hit, the team mobilized to develop the coronavirus vaccine, Nature reported.

Corbett’s work has won praise from many quarters. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, has praised Corbett as being “right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine.”


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.