Dr.Kizzmekia Corbett, lead developer of the Moderna vaccine and viral immunologist at the National Institute of Health, educated listeners on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and the African-American community. Tia Mowry-Hardict, two-time NAACP Image award winner, moderated the town hall discussion.
Mowry is primarily known for her television debut on Sister, Sister, a sitcom based on discovering her long-lost twin sister and growing up in the same household of their foster parents.
Mowry asked how Dr.Corbett carries the weight of being at the forefront of vaccine development. Dr.Corbett does not feel constrained to change her personality at her job. She continues to be herself in the workplace, regardless of her race.
“For me, wherever I am in the workplace, I bring myself and everything that comes with me. I allow people to accept that or not,” said Dr.Corbett.
Mowry thanked Dr.Corbett for representing women of color in the health field. Reassuring Dr.Corbett’s prominence in vaccine research, Mowry questioned why African-Americans should trust America’s health system.
Mowry mentioned the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, an example of a recent health violation that attributes to African-Americans’ distrust in the healthcare system. During the experiment between 1932 and 1972, African-American men thought they were receiving free healthcare but were unknowingly involved in a study of untreated syphilis.
Dr.Corbett expressed how social injustice still occurs today, especially health-related issues. Taking the stance of empathy and understanding, she is confident about the vaccine because she understands the data from vaccine development.
“I get to see the data. I’ve been involved with vaccine development for so long, that I can understand where and how to dissect the data other people cannot,” said Dr.Corbett. “For me, it’s really helping other people understand the science of things, but then also pulling them back and saying this is how the institution is at least trying to change.”
Dr.Corbett listed examples of how the institution is making changes:
The FDA has black advisors on their board for approving vaccines such as the CEO of Meharry Medical College, Dr. James Hildreth
Her leadership in developing the vaccine as a woman of color
Increasing the enrollment of minority participants in clinical trials to have equal representation of side effects
The vaccine development for COVID-19 is a common concern amongst the general public because of how fast the vaccine was created. In response to the vaccine’s quick development, there is a pre-clinical stage before the vaccine is tested on humans. Dr.Corbett has been involved in vaccine development for six years, during that time, she uses family as an analogy to describe how the vaccine was created.
COVID-19 is a part of a viral family. To produce a vaccine, scientists had to study viruses that were closely related to COVID. The fast production of the COVID-19 vaccine is linked to scientists prior research on a similar virus to COVID called MERS, a cousin virus of COVID-19. (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
“We had basically designed that sequence [vaccine] based on a protein from one of the previous viruses that is related to the new virus. It was very clear how we would design the vaccine,” said Dr.Corbett.
During the town hall, Dr.Corbett used a model to explain how the COVID-19 vaccine does not insert the virus into your system but helps your body to recognize the virus as a threat by sending messengers (proteins) throughout the body.
Dismantling fears of side effects from the vaccine, severe side effects rarely occur. The CDC has a database reporting adverse side effects from the vaccine called Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
During Dec. 21, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021, out of 4,041,396 people, the CDC reported a low percentage of adverse events after the first dosage of the Moderna vaccine.
“ During the same period, reports of 1,266 (0.03%) adverse events after receipt of the first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had been submitted to VAERS. ”
Concluding the town hall, Mowry allowed students to ask Dr.Corbett questions. Dr.Padonda Webb thanked Mowry and Dr.Corbett for their discussion.
Governor Roy Cooper is expanding vaccine eligibility on Mar. 24, including people with high risk health issues and people living in group settings. President Biden announced that by May, all Americans could have access to the vaccine.