Top Allergist and Immunologist: "Get Vaccinated!"
As corona virus vaccines start becoming more available, getting everyone vaccinated is of vital importance. In our interview with Dr. James Baker, the former CEO and CMO of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), Dr. Baker addresses many concerns within the allergy community. Reporter Kristen Steward and the doctor discuss the effectiveness, safety AND necessity of everyone being vaccinated.
Top Allergist and Immunologist: "Get Vaccinated!"
By Kristen Stewart
February 20th, 2021
Looking at his bio it sure looks like Dr. James Baker has done it all. He has worked in the government and academia, in small pharma and big pharma. He also spent five years as the CEO and CMO of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Yet when I told him he'd done an amazing amount of work he modestly answered, "I guess that’s how it appears when you get old."
This same combination of humility and sense of humor is apparent in his brief self-description at the bottom of his posts on Pandemic Pondering: A Daily Blog, the website he began when COVID-19 hit last March — immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy. It takes navigating to the site's About page to find out he has published more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, is an inventor on 50 patents, has founded four companies and had many other accomplishments that are too numerous to list.
Not to mention he trained under Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's knows other physicians like Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Robert Redfield; Baker and Redfield have known each since they were respectively medical student and intern at Walter Reed Hospital.
If 2020 was anything, it was a banner year for discussions about the human immune system, viruses and vaccinations. It's pretty difficult to think of too many people more suitable to be sharing their knowledge about everything pandemic (including vaccines, allergies and other related topics) than Dr. Baker.
While Dr. Baker did have inhalant allergies as a young man, his work in the allergy and immunology field stemmed more from an intellectual interest than personal experience. "I was mainly fascinated by the immune system because it was the only part of the physiology that you could actually modify and train, and that's what vaccines do," he said. "Vaccines modify your immune response; they train it to protect you against infections."
In March Dr. Baker began getting a lot of questions about the new virus sweeping the world. Rather than answer the same queries over and over again, he decided it would be easier to set up a blog. His first post was made on March 15th, 2020. He paid for the website himself and hoped he wouldn't need to re-new it. And he acknowledged that choice did make him an optimist.
Today with much more information at our disposal and vaccines slowly becoming more accessible (the day we spoke in late January Johnson & Johnson had just announced the results of their clinical trial), he hopes he can wrap up the blog in another six months or so. In the meantime, he was happy to talk about the challenges and rewards of blogging and the importance of getting vaccinated.
Throughout the last 330+ days (yes, he really has posted every single day) his biggest reward has been using his expertise to help put everything into perspective for readers. Through this process he seeks emphasis upon important issues that aren't getting attention, as well as helping to sort out confusion created by certain politicians not to mention the news media (he tries hard to be politically neutral).
"The biggest rewards are when people write you and tell you that it's made a difference," he said. "In many cases, people who were concerned about the vaccine are now getting it. I think that's an incredible accomplishment because until we get a lot of people immunized, we're not going to end this pandemic."
Variants of the virus from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa are already making headlines and causing concern about how these, subsequent and/or new mutations could impact the effectiveness of the vaccines currently available and those already under development (both Moderna and Pfizer have announced they've begun work on a booster shot if it becomes necessary).
In order to prevent this as much as possible, vaccination is the key. "I think basically if we don't get everyone vaccinated it's going to leave people who are infected and those people will serve as what I will politely call a source of mutant virus."
Even people with allergies or who have had an anaphylactic reaction?
Yes, according to Dr. Baker. "I think basically anyone who has life-threatening allergies to dogs or insects or anything else should feel comfortable getting these vaccines even if they've had an anaphylactic reaction in the past."
He is currently working as a principal investigator on a study examining allergic reactions to the vaccine but even now he feels very comfortable in his recommendation. "I think quite honestly let's look at the risk here," he said. "The risk of getting COVID-19 includes possibly getting significantly ill. If you have risk factors you could die. Every day there are over 3,000 people dying from this infection whereas no one has died from the vaccine or had any long-term disability. The risk is almost entirely on the side of COVID-19 not with the vaccine."
To keep up to date on Dr. Baker's insights on the latest pandemic news each day, visit PandemicPondering.com.
Please note: "Many blog postings from Dr. James Baker can found on our association's Facebook home page."
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