Latina scientist who co-created a new COVID shot has been nominated for Nobel Prize
Dr. María Elena Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez were nominated for their creation of the Corbevax vaccine, which they designed with poorer countries in mind.
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Microbiologists Dr. María Elena Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez led the team of scientists that has developed a patent-free COVID-19 vaccine. The Corbevax vaccine is based on older technology than many of its counterparts, making it more similar to a Hepatitis B vaccine. This technology uses recombinant protein instead of mRNA, which makes it cheaper and easier to produce.
The fact that the vaccine is patent-free is huge. Over the last year, there has been a debate whether the patents for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should be waived so that lower-income countries can replicate and produce the vaccines for themselves.
Currently, 61.6% of the world’s population has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. In lower-income countries, only 10.6% of people have received their first dose.
People in favor of the waiver argue that the patent is keeping the price of the vaccines high and making it harder for poorer countries to purchase doses.
Those against the waiver argue that allowing countries to produce the vaccines on their own won’t take the problem away completely, and that they need to be able to distribute them as well.
The Corbevax vaccine fixes both of those issues to some extent. The scientists behind it encourage other countries to work with them to replicate the vaccine, even offering starter kits. It also has a much longer shelf life than the mRNA vaccines and can be kept in standard refrigeration. This would come in handy if a country’s vaccine rollout hits some bumps in the road.
In January, the Corbevax vaccine received emergency-use authorization in India. Prior to this, the vaccine went through two Phase III trials. These trials were conducted at 33 research centers and involved over 3,000 people aged 18 to 80. It was found to be 90% effective against the original strand of COVID and 80% effective against the delta variant. Its effectiveness against omicron is not yet known.
For Drs. Bottazzi and Hotez, having a coronavirus vaccine go to human trials is a long time coming. They had been developing a vaccine based on an earlier strain of the disease back in 2016. They had to postpone that project due to a lack of funding. This time around they received enough funding from philanthropic sources, but very little funding from the government.
Who is Dr. Bottazzi?
Bottazzi was born the daughter of a Honduran diplomat in Italy. At age eight, her family moved back to Honduras. She received her bachelor’s in clinical chemistry and microbiology at the National Autonomous University of Honduras and her doctorate in molecular immunology and experimental pathology from the University of Florida.
In addition to her research, Dr. Bottazzi is a distinguished professor at Baylor University and an associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
She also serves as the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development in Houston, Texas, and has had over 120 scientific papers published in various publications. Bottazzi is also the Editor-In-Chief of Current Tropical Medicine Reports.
Learning About the Nomination
Dr. Bottazzi received a call from Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) last week, where the Congresswoman informed her that she had nominated her and Dr. Hotez for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The truth is that I was shocked, speechless. But we are very excited and grateful, because the simple fact that they have thought of us means that we are already winners,” Dr. Bottazzi told NBC News.
When asked what it means to her to be nominated she said, “It means that with dedication and passion, and always maintaining our convictions, much can be achieved. We can help solve many global problems that we have around the world, especially inequity in health systems.”