I first learned of Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett back in October during Massachusetts STEM Week. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and this year’s theme was “See Yourself in STEM” — a message aimed at young women, especially those from marginalized communities, to inspire their curiosity and interest in this growing field.

In preparation for my radio conversation with some of these young women, I searched for success stories of women of color in STEM. I was so excited to discover that Corbett, a 34-year-old viral immunologist, is the co-team leader of the vaccine scientists’ group at the National Institutes of Health. Corbett, who is African American, worked closely with Cambridge-based biotech company Moderna, which adapted a vaccine concept she developed at NIH.

Her role in the vaccine development is now more important than ever as public health officials like her NIH colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci try to allay fears and dismiss conspiracies among the so-called vaccine reticent — those Americans who are not sure that they trust the COVID vaccines to be safe and effective. And many of the nearly half of Americans who say they will not take the vaccine are people of color skeptical because of this country’s history of medical racism.

Of that history, the Tuskegee Study, which began in 1932, is etched in the psyche of Black Americans. They know the story of how Black men with syphilis were deliberately only given placebos or aspirin for the virulent disease so the public health doctors could monitor the resulting blindness and insanity.

But current-day medical racism is embedded in the negative assumptions of health care professionals about the pain level or symptoms of patients of color. Even wealthy African Americans can’t escape it — like tennis superstar Serena Williams, who almost died in childbirth because she couldn’t initially convince medical staff that something was wrong.

And medical racism has played a major role during the COVID crisis. University of Virginia’s emergency room physician, Leigh-Ann Webb, led a survey of patients who arrived at the hospital’s emergency room to be tested for COVID-19. Webb told CBS News doctors were "disproportionately ordering more tests for people who were white, despite the fact that it was the people of color disproportionally affected." Boston City Council President Kim Janey recently told GBH News the years of distrust can’t be ignored, saying, “We cannot sweep that under the rug and think people are just going to roll up their sleeves and take this vaccine.”

But now, in a full-circle moment, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett’s key contribution in designing the vaccine can help persuade so many rightly skeptical people of color that this medicine is safe. Fauci has delighted in underscoring the importance of Corbett’s work, saying, “The vaccine that you’re going to be taking was developed by an African American woman, and that’s a fact.” It’s a powerful antidote to the legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment.

I watched with hope and anticipation last Monday as Long Island nurse Sandra Lindsay, who is also Black, became the very first American to get the vaccine. This vaccine is the first strike against a shapeshifting viral invader which has infected more than 16 million Americans and taken the lives of more than 300,000. I’ll be taking the vaccine, because I want this historic horror to stop. Here’s hoping 300 million of my fellow Americans agree that this shot in the arm is worth it.