by Dr Garrey Michael Dennie
Kizzie Corbett. That is her name. And years from now American cities will build statues in her honour. American schools, hospitals, and universities will bear her name. Rappers will sing songs about her. And in plays and movies, her life story will be offered as a powerful example of Black female intellectual power that could not be constrained by the American prejudices of race and gender.
These accolades would be well deserved, even if late. Of course, the vast majority of Black people understand how anti-Black ideologies and practices have excluded and continue to exclude Black men and women from working in the most advanced fields of medical research. And certainly Black doctors have long made enormous strides in the field of medicine. They diagnose diseases. They prescribe treatments. And they perform that most essential service, they restore patients to good health.
Dr Kizzmekia Corbett, 36, however, is not a clinical physician. She has no patients. She prescribes no medicine. Instead, her scientific work takes place in the most rarified fields of medical science – virology, immunology, and vaccinology. Her medical work takes place in the laboratories. And in those fields of laboratory medical science, Black scientists in general, and Black women, in particular, are few and far between.
Dr Corbett’s legendary status, however, would rest not simply on the fact that she broke a ceiling that has kept Black scientists outside of the medical laboratories. Rather, it would rest upon the fact that this young Black female medical scientist has achieved the thing most coveted by medical scientists: in this extraordinary medical crisis that Covid 19 has presented to global health, she has intervened decisively to break the back of the crisis. She created the Moderna vaccine which has been immensely successful in stemming illness and death among the vaccinated population.
And make no mistake: in the USA, although Covid 19 is likely to linger on for a very long time, the incredible sight of American hospitals being overwhelmed with the dead and the dying is no more. For two years ago, at the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, dead bodies flowed like a rushing river from homes to hospitals, and from hospitals to morgues. But today, even as people continue to be infected by different variants and sub variants of the genesis virus, the barge of death is no longer sailing and sinking with the weight of dead bodies.
And the answer to this respite from the Covid disaster lies in one word: vaccination. Or perhaps two: TWELVE BILLION. For that is the number of vaccinations which have been delivered into the arms of billions of people. 153 shots have been delivered for every 100 persons in the world across 184 countries. In the US alone 592 million doses have been administered. And our Caribbean neighbour, Cuba, is now the most highly vaccinated population in the world. Certainly, Dr Corbett’s Moderna vaccine is not the only vaccine is use in the world. But two things are true. First cross comparisons of vaccines again and again have shown it to be the most effective of all the vaccines. Secondly, that very success underlined the value of all vaccines in contributing to the fight to reduce the affliction that Covid 19 has imposed upon humanity.
All countries have not benefitted equally from these vaccines. The wealthiest countries have dominated the vaccine market. The progress in the fight against the pandemic is therefore uneven. And this is made worse by the fact that in some countries, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, vaccine resistance has prevailed based upon pseudo-scientific claims.
Indeed, no period in history has seen such a tyranny and prevalence of stupidity. Against the overwhelming proof of the triumph of human intellect in combatting the virus and saving human lives, a global anti vaccine industry arose – based principally among the most virulent racists in the United States but joined by antivaxxers elsewhere. When the virus was killing millions, these propagators of lies rejected the idea that the virus was indeed the killer. When the vaccine has produced a precipitous collapse in Covid deaths, they have rejected the idea that the vaccines had anything to do with this. To do so, however, they have had to ignore an inconvenient truth: the millions of people who have died from Covid share one thing in common. They are overwhelmingly unvaccinated. And the vast majority of people who continue to die from Covid 19 are also unvaccinated. So whereas Dr. Kizzie Corbett has been directly responsible for saving millions of lives, the anti vaxxers who even now continue to parade their lies in multiple pubic platforms have blood on their hands.
One day, Black historians of medicine will tell the story of how a white led anti vaxxer crusade and their black collaborators essentially diminished the astonishing achievement of Dr Kizzie Corbett. But they will remind their readers that whereas 100 years earlier the Spanish flu, untamed by human intervention killed at least 50 million people in two years from a population of one billion people, Covid 19 exacted a price of six million dead bodies from a population of eight billion people. This scale of human grief is of course immeasurable. But this too we know: millions more would have died were it not for the genius of Dr Kizzie Corbett. And for that she will one day take her place as a medical giant – a gift to the world from a Black mother and a Black father. Indeed, The US government’s recent approval of Dr Corbett’s vaccine for children is in fact the crowning achievement of her work. Nothing is more precious to us than our children. To approve her vaccine for use in children is the most powerful affirmation of her work. Dr Kizzmekia’s place in history is therefore secured, even if today the naysayers keep barking at the moon.