Otago Uni epidemiologist wins science communication prize

Prof Michael Baker Photo: supplied / Otago University Wellington
Prof Michael Baker Photo: supplied / Otago University Wellington
Otago academic Michael Baker, who has become a household name during the Covid-19 pandemic, has won the Prime Minister’s Science Communication prize.

In the past 12 months Prof Baker, an epidemiologist based at Otago’s Wellington campus, has gone from obscurity to practically ever-present in the nation’s media as one of the most called-upon commentators for anything Covid-19 related.

One of the first people to call for a total lockdown and elimination strategy to combat the virus, Prof Baker has given more than 2000 interviews in the past 12 months.

"I felt absolutely compelled to communicate because at some points I thought New Zealand was heading off a cliff, particularly a year ago when we were at a real crossroads as to whether to follow a flatten the curve approach or to forge a different direction to eliminate the virus,” he said.

As well as speaking publicly, Prof Baker has published more than 25 academic articles about the pandemic since it started, and has also collaborated with other Otago colleagues on a well-read blog site which addresses Covid-19 issues.

Otago deputy vice-chancellor (research and enterprise) Richard Blaikie said Prof Baker’s great skill was his ability to translate his expertise into practical and accessible information.

"His efforts, and those of colleagues supporting him, have undoubtedly help to save lives and reduce the wider impact of the pandemic.

"The global impact of Professor Baker’s work is also immense, due in no small part to his commitment to be accessible at all hours of the day and night to the time-critical needs of those seeking his succinct and incisive opinions.”

The prize is worth $75,000, and Prof Baker said the majority of that money would help establishment a Public Health Communication Centre at the University of Otago, Wellington.

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