Into the quantum realm: World-renowned vaccinologist from Bacolod City talks about viruses and vaccines

(First of two parts)


BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – A lot of kids grew up wanting to be an astronaut and to explore outer space, to journey into the far reaches of the vast unknown and search for other (perhaps intelligent) lifeforms.

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It was not until the movie Ant Man that mainstream attention was drawn to the quantum realm (think Scott Lang, um, Antman) shrinking into a microscopic lifeform into a world invisible to our naked eyes.

Physician-scientist Melvin Sanicas in Zurich, Switzerland. | Photo from Melvin Sanicas personal collection on Facebook, printed with permission
Physician-scientist Melvin Sanicas in Zurich, Switzerland. | Photo from Melvin Sanicas personal collection on Facebook, printed with permission

Or the secrets of the deep oceans when giant Jaegers (Gipsi Danger most of all) exploded onto the big screen (or dove into the ocean) seeking to destroy the Kaejus that are actually aliens, in the movie Pacific Rim.

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We thought the aliens would come from outer space but in Pacific Rim, they came out of fissures on the ocean bottom.

We thought they will be strange-looking, slender, green monsters with crystal bubble helmets.

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Until COVID arrived.

Or killed its way to town.

The “enemy” is neither green nor big. Nor is it slender. Neither does it have a crystal bubble helmet.

Instead, it is small.

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Very, very small.

Like 100 nanometers small, nano being defined as one billionth of a meter.

Think of the SARS CoV virus as so small that 1,000 of it can fit on the tip of a human hair.

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For close to 20 years now, Doc Melvin had been studying viruses, part of what experts like him call as pathogens or micro-organisms that can cause illnesses to their hosts.

After graduating high school at the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, where not a few classmates describe him as “alam alam (super intelligent) Melvin took up a biology course and eventually applied for and was accepted to a vaccinology and clinical development training at the Universita di Siena in Italy.

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“New pathogens, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are accompanied by high levels of uncertainty. The public understandably wants answers and we see people turning to social media for those. One problem is that social networks are rife with inaccurate information and misinformation,” Melvin writes in Alumni Stories of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where he finished his Masters in Infectious Diseases.

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In the interview with DNX that lasted almost an hour, Doc Melvin notes that scientists know more now about SARS CoV 2 compared to when the pandemic started since late last year or early this year.

In a sense, humans and the virus are just getting to know each other, like what lovers do at the start of a romance.

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He noted, however, that advances in research and technology have led to faster vaccine development, which used to take 10 to 15 years.

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It was not surprising, he said, that only 42 days after the virus’ genetic sequence was identified, a possible vaccine was already offered.

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