Last year was quite a significant one for vaccine scientists, health heroes who provide us with information and innovative vaccine developments that help us get closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move into the new year, here’s a look back at some of the influential vaccine scientists who inspired us in 2021.
From day one of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci has been front and center in the fight to contain COVID-19 and protect Americans. When the pandemic made its way across the U.S. and national news, Dr. Fauci was among the first to step forward with facts and guidance for millions of Americans during unprecedented times. As the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Fauci has advised six presidents over 36 years and has always reinforced the importance of global corporation to combat the pandemic:
“This is a global pandemic, and it needs to be addressed at a global level. So, we should concentrate not only on controlling it in our own country, but we’ve got to control it globally…”
His leadership and ability to explain complex health information prompted him to be recognized as TIME’s 2020 Guardian of the Year and among 100 Most Influential People in 2020.
As a vaccine scientist and autism parent, Dr. Peter Hotez has spearheaded national efforts to promote vaccines, going up against a national “antivax” threat. Dr. Hotez, dean at Baylor’s National School of Tropical Medicine, has most recently made headlines for his role in creating a COVID-19 vaccine at the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. After nearly a decade of research, it received emergency use authorization in India. The goal is to make the vaccine available in other low- and middle-income nations to help prevent future variants of concern from forming.
“The only way to stop [COVID-19] is to vaccinate the world, and we think our [vaccine] is going to be a major contributor to that.”
The biochemist from Hungary is among the four vaccine scientists named in TIME magazine’s 2021 list of Heroes of the Year. Dr. Karikó’s research in the RNA was eventually used to help make COVID-19 vaccines across the globe. Dr. Karikó showed resilience in the face of adversity, spending nearly a decade on her research only to get turned down time and time again.
“I think I was rejected at least 24 times,” she says, “but I kept pushing, because every time, I wanted to understand why they rejected it and how could I improve.”
Eventually, her RNA research helped with the discovery of new treatments for over 20 diseases including influenza, HIV, Zika, and eventually SARS-COV-2. Her role was so influential that Karikó will be recognized in a new HBO series called The First Shots, which focuses on the development of the COVID-19 vaccines and her instrumental role in the process.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is one of the leading scientists behind the COVID-19 vaccine research developed in collaboration with Moderna, which initial studies showed to be more than 90% effective. Aside from this success, Dr. Corbett has taken on another challenge: addressing vaccine hesitancy. By talking about COVID-19, health, and science to communities of color, she hopes to make scientific knowledge more accessible in public media, build trust, and help inspire future generations of girls of color in science.
“Vaccines have the potential to be the equalizer of health disparities, especially around infectious diseases.”
Today, Dr. Corbett continues to visit media outlets to explain the vaccine, virus, and variants in accessible ways. We celebrate Dr. Corbett’s contributions to vaccine science and addressing health disparities.
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