For 2021’s Heroes of the Year award, Time magazine named researchers who worked on the COVID-19 vaccines, called “The Miracle Workers”. The cover image features Katalin Karikó, Barney S. Graham, Kizzmekia Corbett and Drew Weissman, four scientists who made strides to develop multiple vaccines during the pandemic.
“The miracle workers behind the COVID-19 vaccines are the TIME Heroes of the Year not only because they gave the world a defense against a pathogen, but also because the manner of those astonishing achievement guards more than our health: they channeled their ambitions to the common good, talked to one another and trusted in facts”, the article says.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman are responsible for developing mRNA, the technology behind Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s anticovid vaccines. The technology allows laboratories to produce immunizers at a higher speed than other, more traditional methods. Thanks to this technology, companies were able to start producing the first doses on the same day that the coronavirus was sequenced, on January 20th.
Barney S. Graham was part of the US research team that developed a protein capable of fighting the virus. His research found that some virus proteins change shape after they break down in a person’s cells, leading to the design of a better vaccine against the respiratory syncytial virus.
The only black person on the 2021 heroes of the year list, Kizzmekia Corbett began working on an anti-covid-19 vaccine early in the pandemic. Recognizing that the virus was similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Corbett’s team used prior knowledge of coronavirus S proteins to fight the new pathogen. In collaboration with Jason McLellan and other researchers at the University of Texas, Corbett’s team transplanted stabilizing mutations in the SARS-CoV S protein into the spike protein SARS-CoV-2.
“For those of us lucky enough to live in wealthy countries with access to these top-shelf vaccines, it has made all the difference”, completes the magazine.
Photo: Mattia Balsamini for TIME