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This Filipino Priest Is Developing COVID-19 Vaccine for the Poor

Fr. Nicanor Robles Austriaco is a scientist, microbiologist, professor, and Dominican.
IMAGE NJKOZUB / WIKIPEDIA - CC BY-SA 4.0
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Fr. Nicanor Robles Austriaco has spent the last 20 years studying yeast cells to discover the molecular basis of cancer cells and how they spread through the body. Now, he’s working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for the poor. 

“Everyone should get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Austriaco told Catholic news website Aleteia.

Austriaco is a scientist, a microbiologist, a professor, and a Dominican. He is based in the U.S., where he completed his Ph.D. in Microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Many people think that science and faith go against each other, but Austriaco disagrees. “Faith and reason are both gifts from God,” he told Aleteia.

Austriaco is hardly the first priest-scientist who made a mark in the world. Pope Francis himself is a scientist, graduating with a title or diploma in chemistry. The Pope is remarkably pro-science and pro-environment. Another notable priest who was also a scientist was Jesuit priest Padre Faura, founder and first director of the Manila Observatory. He invented the Padre Faura Barometer

Vaccines should be available to the poor at no cost.

Currently, Austriaco is developing a yeast-based vaccine delivery system for COVID-19 that is significantly cheaper than the most affordable vaccine available today.

That his yeast lab is now used for developing a yeast vaccine delivery system for COVID-19 seems like the workings of divine providence. According to Austriaco, he was worried most Filipinos would never be able to afford the best vaccines, which are developed by wealthier nations. 

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“I put my lab on this project after learning about the challenges the Filipino people would have in acquiring and deploying vaccines developed in the first world,” he told Aleteia. “Vaccines should be available to the poor at no cost.”

As of this writing, Austriaco and his team are still in the first stages of developing their own vaccine, and it will take several months before it is ready for animal trials and then human trials. 

Does God approve of the use of vaccines?

Today, there are many radicals who are eschewing the use of vaccines and calling it unethical. It also happens that many conservatives are more hesitant to trust COVID-19 vaccines for religious reasons. Fr. Austriaco is a force who can change that hesitancy. Exactly how does God see vaccines? Austriaco gives a very practical answer.

“God has given scientists the ability to create COVID-19 vaccines in record time. We should now use these vaccines to protect the elderly and those who are most vulnerable to disease to end the pandemic,” Austriaco tells Aleteia

Austriaco’s vaccine development program is funded through a small grant provided by Providence College, a Catholic college in Rhode Island. It is the only college in the U.S. that is run by the Dominicans. The college supports the preclinical stages of Austriaco’s vaccine development.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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