Physician-scientist Melvin Sanicas (MSc in Infectious Diseases, 2015) is a 2021 The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee for science and medicine

The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awards trophy and medal

Dr Melvin Sanicas, known globally as @Vaccinologist on Twitter, was recently named among The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for 2021 for Science and Medicine. The award recognises Dr Sanicas for his tireless work in scientific communication, fighting misinformation and disinformation, advancing the field of vaccinology, and making significant contributions to global public health.

The Outstanding Young Men award in the Philippines is an annual national recognition awarded to Filipinos aged 18 to 40. The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awards, established in 1959, recognise exemplary men and women from practically every field of endeavour. TOYM has served as an inspiration for many Filipinos. It remains the most prestigious award given to a Filipino who has achieved excellence in his craft with a determination to focus on serving the country.

Dr Sanicas is one of a few physician-scientists who have worked in various drug and vaccine development phases for some of the most important infectious diseases globally. He has worked in hospitals, a national regulatory authority, the biopharmaceutical industry, and global non-profit organisations in developed and low- and middle-income countries. He launched the Collaboration for Tuberculosis Vaccine Discovery (CTVD), an international network of over 80 institutions dedicated to TB vaccine development. Dr Sanicas is a science education champion and a patron of The SciShow, a series of science-related videos with the most subscribers on social media. He is a TED Educator, and the lessons he developed on tuberculosis, influenza, meningitis, and the coronavirus have been translated into over 24 different languages and viewed by millions. He worked on some of the most-watched TED-Ed videos related to COVID-19: What is a coronavirus?; When is a pandemic over?How do ventilators work?How fast can a vaccine be made?

Dr Sanicas stepped up to the challenge of the novel virus, then called 'nCoV-2019' before it was named SARS-CoV-2 and declared a public health emergency of international concern. His contributions to fighting the biggest 'twindemic' of our lifetime (the COVID-19 pandemic and the 'infodemic' of misinformation) has evolved from being a frontline volunteer, to fighting fake news and disinformation online through his social media accounts, to working on vaccine safety through the SPEAC (Safety Platform for Emergency vACcines); an international collaborative project of the Brighton Collaboration (BC) and more recently, addressing the inequity of COVID-19 vaccines.

Melvin Sanicas
TOYM Awardee for Science and Medicine, Melvin Sanicas. 8th April 2022, Okada, Paranaque City, Philippines.

In his TOYM acceptance speech, Dr Sanicas talked about the following:

  • Rejections - his career started with 40 job application rejections
  • Humility - humility will always open more doors than arrogance ever will
  • Willingness to learn - admitting you don't know is the first step to learning something
  • Collaboration - a group of people working together will always be able to create more,  deliver more, and achieve more than any individual person or institution working alone.

The awarding ceremonies, held by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Philippines last April 8, honoured 10 exceptional young Filipinos who achieved professional excellence in their chosen fields and tirelessly worked toward inspiring meaningful positive change in society.

The Outstanding Young Men awardees 2021 on stage
TOYM Awardees for 2021 (left to right): Eleazar Abraham "Abe" Orobia for Education and Culture; Anna Oposa for Environmental Marine Conservation; Ariestelo Asilo for Social Entrepreneurship; Iloisa Romaraog-Diga for Agricultural Entrepreneurship; Jaime Alfonso Aherrera for Medicine: Cardiology; Jayeel Cornelio for Education: Sociology; Lou Sabrina Ongkiko for Education and the Academe; Melvin Sanicas for Science and Medicine, Maria Yzabell Angel Palma for Science and Technology.

The world needs more physicians and scientists who want to translate their expertise into effective communication on global health issues and Dr Sanicas tries to inspire the younger generation of physicians and scientists to do so. He believes that there is an essential role for physicians, scientists, and public health specialists as science advocates. When there's a void of accurate scientific-based information, what fills the vacuum? Bots, trolls, and conspiracy theorists spreading seeds of doubt and misinformation that may have dangerous consequences.

For Sanicas, the LSHTM Master's programme was the right blend of public health, immunology, epidemiology, and biology, all of which are very important in gauging and understanding new and emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and other future pathogens of global public health concern.