NIH vaccine designer takes coronavirus research to Harvard

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FILE – In this Feb. 11, 2021, file photo, Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) looks on at the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the NIH in Bethesda, Md. Fewer Americans are reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine than just a few months ago, but questions about side effects and how the shots were tested still hold some back, according to a new poll that highlights the challenges at a pivotal moment in the U.S. vaccination campaign. Corbett helped lead development of the Moderna shot, and she spends hours giving plain-spoken answers to questions from Americans — especially Black Americans like her — to counter misinformation about the three vaccines used in the U.S. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The U.S. government scientist who helped design one of the first COVID-19 vaccines and then tackled skepticism of the shotsin communities of color is moving to Harvard in June.

Kizzmekia Corbett of the National Institutes of Health will take her research into next-generation vaccines for coronaviruses to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the school announced Tuesday.

Corbett told The Associated Press the move also allows her to become even more involved in vaccine outreach and equity.

“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, 35, helped lead the NIH’s development of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna. The viral immunologist spent six years leading an NIH research team that studied potential vaccines against other coronaviruses such as MERS, giving them a head start when the new coronavirus appeared.

As vaccination drives launched, Corbett spoke virtually to churches and at forums hosted by colleges, doctors and even basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to counter vaccine reluctance.

In her new role, Corbett will head a lab that explores new vaccines to protect against additional members of the coronavirus family and other novel viruses that could threaten human health.

“We’re going to continue to see these emerging viruses and have to have strategies to deal with them,” said Sarah Fortune, the chair of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard Chan School. “Unfortunately with coronaviruses and the need to understand how to vaccinate against coronaviruses, we’re not out of the woods.”

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