MHA Honors Black Scientists Making History in Vaccine Development

SPRINGFIELD — As part of its February social-media campaign for Black History Month, the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA) is emphasizing key contributions of black scientists in the unprecedented research supporting the development of COVID-19 vaccines. “Scientists Making History” shines a light on these black scientists:

• Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is a research fellow and scientific lead at the National Institutes of Health. Working with her team of scientists, she has been instrumental in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

• Dr. Michael Johnson is an assistant professor of Immunobiology at the University of Arizona. His groundbreaking research involves ways copper could help stop the coronavirus from entering human cells or replicating once it is inside.

• Dr. Christopher Barnes is a Hanna Grays Post-doctoral Fellow at California Institute of Technology, a structural biologist, and a mentor to people of color pursing a STEM career. His research into crystallizing antibodies is contributing to the fight against COVID-19.

• Dr. Tomeka Suber is an assistant professor of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. An expert in acute respiratory distress syndrome, she is researching host defense mechanisms in intrapulmonary bacterial infections, such as COVID-19.

Throughout MHA’s social-media campaign, readers are urged to honor the contributions of these black scientists through a simple act: getting vaccinated against COVID-19. With this in mind, the campaign also shines a light on black healthcare workers on the front lines.

For example, Sandra Lindsay is a critical-care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center who received the first non-trial COVID-19 vaccine. She volunteered to take the vaccine as soon as it was available because she wanted to “inspire people who look like me.”

“A majority of the employees of MHA are persons of color and essential workers who are members of our direct-care teams,” said Cheryl Fasano, president and CEO of MHA. “Our caregiving staff support our residents around the clock, every day, so helping keep everyone safe from COVID-19 has brought special challenges to their work. Since Black History Month is coinciding with the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines, MHA recognized that promoting the research and development efforts of these scientists can encourage more people — including our own staff — to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

“As frontline workers, our staff members already qualify for the vaccine,” she went on, “and MHA, in cooperation with Springfield Pharmacy, the Department of Mental Health, and the Department of Disability Services, has been making the vaccine available to our employees each week as supply allows. What better way to honor the work of black scientists than to embrace the extraordinary value of their work? Get vaccinated!”