Black History Month

Black History Month

February 18, 2021

The last year has brought disease prevention to the forefront of our minds. Right now, vaccines are a major focus of disease prevention. Black history month is a perfect month to look at disease prevention through major contributions to the vaccine movement by two important people.

Vaccine science began with the idea of inoculation. Inoculation, in this context, is when somebody is exposed to a disease in very small amounts so their body can experience the disease and learn how to fight it with much less severe consequences. By the 1700s this had been done in some parts of the world, but according to this study of the origins of inoculation, the first record we have of the idea being introduced in the American Colonies was through an African slave named Onesimus from the area that is now Libya. When Onesimus was asked whether he had had smallpox his answer was, “Yes, and no.” He then went on to explain how his people had often used this small operation on whomever was willing, so they could be “forever free of the fear of contagion.” This story was collaborated by other African slaves, and the study of inoculation had begun in the American Colonies.

Moving through the centuries, scientists have used this subject to discover ways to make vaccination safer and have made huge advances in disease prevention. The exciting news is that we have been able to utilize centuries of research to develop the newest vaccines for COVID-19.

In December, at a forum hosted by the National Urban League Dr. Anthony Fauci recognized Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett as “an African American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine.” According to Dr. Corbett’s biography on the American Society for Microbiology, she had already been researching coronaviruses for years, so it was natural that she would take the lead on developing a primary candidate vaccine against COVID-19 that is currently being distributed by Moderna. Her contributions have impacted the world through the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and many other areas of vaccine technology that will save lives for years to come.

There have been countless more contributions to disease prevention throughout history from African Americans. Celebrating black history is celebrating contributions that made it possible for us to fight the current pandemic and make our communities safer and healthier.