Latina Scientist Dr. Maria Bottazzi Was Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for Creating a Patent-Free COVID-19 Vaccine
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the perils of big pharma and the role they’re playing in governments’ response to COVID-19. So, when a scientist comes along and creates a medicine for truly altruistic reasons, it gets people’s attention.
Honduran-American scientist Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her groundbreaking creation of the Corbevax vaccine, an affordable and easily reproducible COVID-19 vaccine that she refers to as “the World’s Vaccine.”
The Corbevax vaccine uses traditional recombinant protein technology to prevent disease in its host. Like other well-known vaccines for hepatitis B and HPV, recombinant protein technology uses enough of a virus’s proteins to provoke the body’s immune response, but not enough to actually make the body sick.
This technology is markedly different from the now widely-used COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, which teach our bodies how to make COVID-19 antibodies without the actual virus being injected into us.
And unlike big pharma companies like Pfizer or Moderna, Dr. Bottazzi’s Corbevax vaccine is unpatented, which means manufacturers won’t have to pay for the right to manufacture it. This makes the Corbevax vaccine more affordable for developing countries and, therefore, more accessible to the world’s poorer populations. Already, the Corbevax vaccine has received authorization for emergency use in India.
“Our goal has always been to develop and manufacture cheap, durable vaccines to contribute to global health,” Dr. Bottazzi said to NBC News.
Bottazzi grew up in both Italy and Honduras. Her father, a Honduran man of Italian descent, moved Bottazzi and her brother to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she spent most of her youth.
Dr. Bottazzi’s upbringing in Honduras has influenced her outlook on life, making her sympathetic to the plight of developing countries with poor populations.
For Dr. Bottazzi, creating a more-accessible vaccine was a way to give back to her community. “You need to have an open-source mentality to be able to decolonize, to ensure that these vaccines are not produced only by high-income countries,” she told El Pais. “They should be produced in the same countries where they are needed.”
On February 1, Dr. Bottazzi and her research partner Dr. Peter Hotez were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Texas Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher.
“Dr. Hotez and Dr. Bottazzi’s effort to develop the CORBEVAX vaccine is truly one of international cooperation and partnership to bring health, security, and peace around the world by creating a COVID-19 vaccine and making it available and accessible to all,” wrote Rep. Fletcher in a statement. “It is a contribution that is of the greatest benefit to humankind.”
Bottazzi’s nomination came as a big surprise to her. “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,” Bottazzi told NBC News.
Now, Dr. Bottazzi is using her platform to advocate for Latinas, immigrants and people from developing countries to believe in themselves despite the odds. “My message is that it can be done, no matter what negative people say,” she said.
“I studied in Honduras, so it’s a lie that one always has to be educated in high-income countries,” she continued. “Our education, if you do your part and dedicate yourself, can achieve the excellence of the highest educational systems and we can learn what is needed.”