I take the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

In 1995 I was a mid-career scientist and physician at the University of Michigan who had previously worked for 14 years in the Army on biodefense, vaccines, and immunological diseases. After duty in Desert Storm and the issues surrounding anthrax in that war, I was well aware of the difficulties in trying to produce a vaccine for any illness. I had read Richard Preston’s book the Hot Zone and understood the limitations of studying deadly infectious diseases (including one scientist who lost a leg due to an inadvertent laboratory needle stick). Therefore, I was entirely dismissive about the new movie “Outbreak” in which characters made an antidote in days to save an entire California community from an Ebola-like disease.

Fast forward to this year as I laid out my own expectations for COVID-19. When the pandemic first became prominent in February and March, my belief was that we would slog through the first few years of this new illness and hopefully develop drugs that could manage it. Long term there was hope of immunity because of infection, but since the actual mechanisms of illness from this virus were unclear, I was not sure how many people would die or how long the pandemic would continue.

The last idea I would ever entertain was that, before the year was out, there would be a 95% effective vaccine that would be commercially available, and I would be fortunate enough to receive this vaccine. No one in their right mind with any type of medical research background would have expected that.

Totally against my wildest expectations, this afternoon I received my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. Thinking through the history of vaccine development, it struck me that this was truly a miraculous event.

I view myself as incredibly fortunate that I was prioritized to get the vaccine at this early point. I am old (over 65), have a congenital cardiac anomaly and take lots of medications that put me at significant risk from this infection. Despite these issues, I have continued to see patients throughout the epidemic whenever our clinics were allowed to be open. Importantly, most of my patients have immune problems and are probably at greater risk from an infected physician than I am from them.

The biggest question I had in this was whether or not I was truly deserving to get the vaccine at this time. We have all observed such incredible human suffering from this disease, and it highlighted the in equities in our health care system. I have good access to medical care and was fortunate to be able to do most of my non-patient related work remotely. Many of my colleagues of similar age have decided either to retire or at least to stop seeing patients during this time. Was it reasonable for me to continue to see patients, put myself at risk, and accidentally gain priority access to the vaccine?

The only reasonable response I could think of comes from another movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” A dying captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) whispers to Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), “make sure you earn this.” To make sure I earn this vaccine, I have taken a role in research concerning immunity associated with COVID-19 infection and also will help investigate some of the allergic adverse reactions to this vaccine. I plan on continuing patient care as long as I am able and as long as I am useful to my patients (thanks to the Allergy Division for supporting that). I won’t take for granted the opportunity this vaccine affords me, nor forget the number of individuals who were sickened or died during the time it took to develop it.

One thing we should all remember is the effort required to get these vaccines. A friend said, “We should give a Heisman Trophy for this vaccine.” However, rather than being an individual effort, like a spectacular 100-yard run, it is countless people, each of whom advanced the effort a few inches until we reached the end zone. Many did not even work on COVID-19; some of the work came from SARS or even more basic studies in vaccine technology and genetics.

The best way to “earn” this vaccine, however, is to get it as soon as it is available to you. Each vaccinated person is someone who won’t get sick and wind up in the hospital putting others at risk. Stop being scared by media reports of rare adverse events from this vaccine; we can treat those and will figure them out. Remember, no one has died or been irreversibly injured from the vaccine, while we lose thousands a day from the infection.

This is really the only way to end the pandemic. Please get the vaccine.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

15 thoughts on “I take the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

  1. I wish i could share this on facebook. Most do not understand this vaccine or the impact ( if 80% of us got vaccinated).

    And thank you for your blog through this most difficult time. Very Informative and insightful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Dr. Baker for your blog and leadership during this pandemic. I am only 60 but I do have co-morbidities. I have been a patient at UofM for many years. Can you tell me more about Michigan Medicine’s conditions/diagnosis codes that may qualify for phase 1c of this vaccine rollout. I have been truly locked in my home since Feb – delivery only. This is my only hope of some normality. I miss my grandchildren so much!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Check with CVS and Walgreens. If you get your prescriptions there, you could get the vaccine sooner. Places like UM have so little vaccine and so many first responders they are probably the worst to try and get in. Also some smaller hospitals got more vaccine than they need, so that would be another alternative.

      Like

  3. Congratulations!
    I agree, it’s a miracle— humankind’s investment in science is paying off better than anyone dared hope. 2021 will be better!
    I’m glad you were able to be vaccinated, you certainly deserve it! Thanks for all you do! .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. On Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 10:38 PM Pandemic Pondering wrote:

    > jbakerjrblog posted: ” In 1995 I was a mid-career scientist and physician > at the University of Michigan who had previously worked for 14 years in the > Army on biodefense, vaccines, and immunological diseases. After duty in > Desert Storm and the issues surrounding anthrax in that” >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Dr. Baker, First of all, congratulations on receiving the vaccine… your contributions throughout the pandemic through your excellent and well-researched posts alone should have qualified you, in my humble opinion. Your words today meant a great deal…and your humility is certainly refreshing. BTW…I miss Biscuit and know that this holiday will be difficult for you and your family. Pets are such vital members of our families.

    I have a question. My family is on both sides of the “dine in or not” divide. I’m on the “not” side, but feel great sympathy for struggling restaurant owners. However, I worry that my 52-year-old son, who lives in Texas and just recovered from COVID, thinks it’s fine to dine in. What are your thoughts…especially at this juncture when the vaccine is so close to being more widely available? I’m 76, by the way, so getting it is looking more hopeful every day. While the decision to dine in in Michigan is currently moot…what would be your recommendation for the new year? Clearly our Governor and Health Administrators feel restaurants are big virus spreaders.

    Wishing you a bless and safe holiday, Kathleen Rogers kmrogers210@gmail.com

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your son is immune, so he could eat in safely. For you, it is a risk/benefit analysis. Given the implications of getting COVID-19 for you, I would not “eat in” right now, especially since you are now prioritized to the the vaccine soon. Next summer we should be getting back to normal if everyone gets the vaccine!

      Like

  6. Jim, You earned your place in the queue. Thanks for all you’ve contributed over the years, including this blog, and for your insights, spirit, and perspectives (some call it your ‘tude but that’s a different topic :))

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have been reading your blog since March. I would say you have done a 180. I am glad you got your vaccine. You do have a following but your tune has changed A LOT.

    Liked by 1 person

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