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Immunology 101 Series: Meet the Expert

Aimee Pugh-Bernard, PhD

Dr. Aimee Bernard with her husband Dr. Tim Bernard and their two children, 8-year-old twins Jack and Sawyer

Dr. Aimee Bernard with her husband Dr. Tim Bernard and their children, 8-year-old twins Jack and Sawyer

As a scientist and an educator who appreciates the hard facts, and as a mom with real concerns about my kids’ health, I understand how difficult it can be to make choices that affect your family’s health. We all want to do what’s right. But in today’s world – filled with conflicting information online, in the media and among peers – it’s hard to know which sources are accurate and reliable. Throughout the course of this blog series, I’ll use my expertise and my experience to arm you with the facts.

So, what makes me an expert?

For starters, I am an immunologist, a scientist who studies the immune system. The immune system is the collection of cells and organs in our bodies that keep us healthy by defending us against pathogens, such as disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

I am also a Senior Instructor of Biology at the University of Colorado Denver, where I teach upper-level biology courses such as immunology, genetics, molecular biology, and virology. My goal is to not simply talk at my students but to effectively communicate scientific information in ways they understand and can apply. As I do every day in my classrooms, I will do my best to help you decipher the science of vaccines through clear and easy to understand explanations.

Last, but certainly not least, I am a mother of 8-year-old twins. As any parent can attest, my role as a mom is by far the most challenging yet rewarding. I might analyze data or research differently than other parents, but when I’m outside the lab or classroom I’m like any other parent. We all just want what’s best for our family.

And here’s how I got here.

My love of science first sparked in my sophomore year high school biology class. Learning about how the cells in our bodies are structured and function got me hooked. I had found my passion in biology. My quest to become a scientist led me to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and then continued on to the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, where I received a PhD in Immunology.

After obtaining my PhD in 2001, my husband Tim and I moved to Denver, Colorado,  so he could begin his pediatrics residency at Children’s Hospital Colorado and I could begin a post-doctoral fellow position at National Jewish Health, a world-renowned academic research facility and hospital dedicated to immunological research. After completing my post-doc at National Jewish Health and a brief break to have my twins, I followed my desire to teach and took a position at the University of Colorado Denver in the fall of 2007 where I currently teach.

Through a blog post series, I will help you understand and make sense of the science behind vaccines to help you to make educated, informed decisions about vaccination. I’ll provide answers to your most common – and toughest – vaccine questions, including:

  • how do vaccines work? (i.e. how does our immune system respond to vaccines)
  • how are vaccines made?
  • why are some vaccines given together at the same time as combination vaccines?
  • what are the risks associated with vaccination and, in comparison, what are the risks associated with not getting vaccinated?
  • what is ‘herd immunity’ and why is it important?

As a scientist and an educator, I know that the best way to learn is to actively participate in your learning experience and to develop your own questions. I encourage you to send ideas for additional topics you’d like to see covered in this series. No question is too big or too tough! Please email us or tweet us at @ImmunizeCOKids.

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