Thanking Kissy Corbett

Who claims Dr. Kissmekia Corbett as their own? Which town, which school, which university? Which nation?

These days, about 3,800 people claim Hurdle Mills, North Carolina, as their home. It’s a tiny unincorporated community on the northern edge of Orange County, a bit southwest of Roxboro, about 16 miles north of Hillsborough, the Orange County seat.

Hurdle Mills serves as home to the Triangle Polo Club. It’s also where Kissmekia “Kissy” Corbett drew her first breath. She spent her childhood in Hillsborough, embraced by a large family of brothers and sisters, step-siblings and foster kids, and attending the local public schools.

Myrtis Bradsher, her fourth-grade teacher At Oak Lane Elementary School, saw Kissy’s potential and suggested advanced classes. Kissy graduated from Orange High School in 2004. Four years later, she had earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and sociology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Then it was on to Chapel Hill, just down the road from Hillsborough, where at the University of North Carolina she earned her PhD in microbiology and immunology. For her doctoral project she worked in Sri Lanka, studying the role of human antibodies in the dengue virus.

Myrtis Bradsher, that fourth-grade teacher, clearly was onto something. Kissy realized that a life in science was for her when she was in high school, and she found ways to chase that dream, working in research labs at UNC, as a summer intern at Stony Brook University, and as a lab tech at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

Armed with her bachelor’s degree, Kissy Corbett went to work at the National Institutes of Health, where she trained others while working on the pathogenesis of a respiratory virus as well as an innovative vaccine platform.

By now you can see where this is heading. When the Covid-190 pandemic hit, Kissy Corbett and her team began working on a vaccine. For brevity, I will skip the hard work and lots of details, to deliver the punch line: Corbett’s team partnered with Moderna to produce the highly effective vaccine with which we all are familiar.

Today, Dr. Corbett serves as the scientific lead of the coronavirus team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Institute’s director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, credits Dr. Corbett’s work in development of the Moderna vaccine, and said, “(it) will have a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years.”

Born in Hurdle Mills, educated in the public schools of Hillsborough and Orange County and in universities in Baltimore and Chapel Hill. Who claims Kissy, Dr. Kissmekia Corbett, as their own?

This grateful nation and much of the world, that’s who.

Thank you, Dr. Corbett.

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