Could Today’s Katalin Karikó Come to America?

Katalin Karikó speaks during a press conference on October 11, 2023, in Budapest, Hungary. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023 along with Drew Weissman for their research that led directly to the first mRNA vaccines to fight COVID-19. (Photo by Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

Dear Capitolsiters,

As I noted last week in the links, medical researchers Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman have won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries related to the mRNA vaccines used to battle COVID-19. This news is good and overdue for many reasons, the biggest one of course being that their breakthrough undoubtedly saved many lives and helped restart the global economy following one of the worst pandemics in modern history. Somewhere lower on that list of reasons (but still important) is the fact that the award shows yet again that the United States—where both Karikó and Weissman reside and did much of their groundbreaking research—continues to have an outsize influence on global science and innovation, thanks in no small part (as we’ve discussed) to brilliant, doggedly-determined immigrants like Katalin Karikó. 

As much as I want to cheer the award and its significance, however, the policy dork in me isn’t really in a rah rah mood. That’s because if Katalin Karikó’s inspiring story were written today, it very well could’ve happened outside the United States—or maybe not at all.

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