Health & Fitness

Dr. Kariko, Hero of the Covid mRNA vaccine

Kristen Sparrow • April 12, 2021

An absolutely incredible story of a dogged, persistent scientist in the face of huge obstacles who persevered and was key in the effort to produce the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna alike.  I encourage you to read the whole thing. Inspiring!  And it underscores the importance of basic science but also of following hunches and the “group think” process of obtaining grants.  Bravo or Brava for Dr. Kariko!

On Nov. 8, the first results of the Pfizer-BioNTech study came in, showing that the mRNA vaccine offered powerful immunity to the new virus. Dr. Kariko turned to her husband. “Oh, it works,” she said. “I thought so.”

To celebrate, she ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.

Dr. Weissman celebrated with his family, ordering takeout dinner from an Italian restaurant, “with wine,” he said. Deep down, he was awed.

“My dream was always that we develop something in the lab that helps people,” Dr. Weissman said. “I’ve satisfied my life’s dream.”

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Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman were vaccinated on Dec. 18 at the University of Pennsylvania. Their inoculations turned into a press event, and as the cameras flashed, she began to feel uncharacteristically overwhelmed.

A senior administrator told the doctors and nurses rolling up their sleeves for shots that the scientists whose research made the vaccine possible were present, and they all clapped. Dr. Kariko wept.

Things could have gone so differently, for the scientists and for the world, Dr. Langer said. “There are probably many people like her who failed,” he said.