By: Rochelle L. Cruz

In celebration of the 2021 National Science and Technology Week (NSTW), the Los Baños Science Community Foundation, Inc. virtually held its 13th Syensaya celebration last 24-26 November 2021 following the theme “Agham at Teknolohiya: Tugon sa Hamon ng Panahon”.

One of the main events in the Syensaya is the conduct of Technology Forum with topics related to the current issues and concerns in the Los Baños community. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conduct of the technoforum has shifted virtually which also expanded the reach even outside the Los Baños constituents.  

This year, LBSCFI highlighted the COVID-19 vaccines and herd immunity in its technoforum. Invited speakers include Dr. Nina Gloriani, Chairperson, DOST Vaccine Expert Panel for COVID-19 and Member, WHO Scientific Steering Committee for COVID-10 Solidarity Vaccine Trials; Ms. Jhoys Landicho-Guevarra, Senior Science Research Specialist, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, DOH; Dr. Ruby Anne King, Assistant Scientist, DOST-PCHRD; and Dr. Alvin A. Isidoro, Municipal Health Officer, LGU Los Baños.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Joanne Serrano, Director, Office of Public Affairs, UP Open University, emphasized how the NSTW theme is fitted on the 2021 Syensaya Technoforum. She said, “Ang tema ngayon ng NSTW ay tunay na akma sa pagbangon ng ating bayan sa mga darating na buwan at taon; at sa mga hakbang tungo sa ating tuluyang paglaya mula sa hamon ng pandemya.”

Dr. Gloriani has started with the science behind the development, evaluation, and approval of COVID-19 vaccines to set the tone of the technoforum. She elaborated steps in the vaccine development including the criteria used in evaluation of vaccine candidates which are based on the safety, efficacy, stability, implementation, and vaccine availability or supply. Vaccine candidates undergo stringent measures scrutinized by the vaccine expert panel and research ethics boards before it reaches the Food and Drug Administration for the final approval.

It was followed by a talk on vaccine hesitancy and how to rebuild vaccine confidence where Ms. Landicho-Guevarra shared her study entitled “Scared, powerless, insulted and embarrassed: hesitancy towards vaccines among caregiver in Cavite Province, the Philippines”. She mentioned the different barriers of childhood vaccine uptake in the country such as individual barriers (e.g. perceived lack of information, vaccines are viewed as non-essential, competing time demands), interpersonal and community barriers (e.g. household head, opinion leader, and neighbor’s opposition to vaccines), health system barriers (e.g. lack of trust to healthcare workers, appointment scheduling and waiting time challenges, multi-dose vaccine vial), and super structural barriers (natural calamities and associated repercussions, fear of COVID-19 and associated community lockdowns).

“Individual and interpersonal level concerns are the most salient factors that often inhibit the success of vaccination campaigns”, she concluded. Various strategies and policies must be enforced to cope with the past and current vaccination challenges. She then recommended several ways to rebuild vaccine confidence: optimize delivery channels and messengers of vaccine health information; include household heads and community leaders as target population in vaccine messaging campaigns; strengthen healthcare workers’ communication skills; and develop interventions driven by empathy and aimed at regaining trust.

The concept of herd immunity was then purposely detailed by Dr. King. Using illustrations, she showed how does herd immunity works and how it helps to block disease transmission. To acquire immunity, she said that it is established by an individual through natural infection with a pathogen or through immunization with a vaccine.

“Herd immunity is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached. In other words, herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Dr. King also discussed about basic reproduction number which helps in determining the needed percentage of population immune to achieve herd immunity. However, challenges still arise that hinders the country to achieve it. These factors include pathogen – where the virus keeps on changing or producing new variants; host/human – ongoing studies on the duration of protection induced by the vaccine, some people are against the vaccination, sociodemographic and cultural factors also influence transmission dynamics; and environment – vaccine roll-out is uneven.

Lastly, Dr. Isidoro gave updates about the COVID-19 cases and vaccination program in Los Baños, Laguna. LGU Los Baños Mayor Antonio Kalaw expressed his gratitude to the LBSCFI for organizing this event which was beneficial in raising awareness on the importance of having vaccinated.