New dengue vaccine to arrive next year; experts worry about vax hesitancy

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Cebu (CNN Philippines, November 21) — A new and “safer” dengue vaccine is expected to arrive in the Philippines in 2024, a pediatric infectious diseases expert said, as he allayed public fears due to the Dengvaxia mess.

Dr. Jonathan Lim said the people should not fear this despite the circumstances surrounding the controversies involving Dengvaxia a decade ago when several children reportedly died after being inoculated with the vaccine.

He said the new dengue vaccine could be available for free through the government or commercially via the private sector or pharmaceutical companies.

"The good thing is that the new vaccine that is coming in the Philippines is actually a different vaccine," Lim said in an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the 24th Philippine National Immunization Conference in Cebu City last week.

"It is a different kind of vaccine and it is shown to be safer and works better,” he added.

According to health experts, the Philippines is among the countries with the highest number of individuals with zero vaccination.

During the conference, health experts said the country needs to step up its campaign that "vaccines are safe" and are necessary for preventing several diseases including the dreaded dengue and the rampant human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes several types of cancer.

"As physicians, we are sad and actually ashamed as Filipinos that we are one of the countries with the highest number of zero vaccination," said Lim, the overall chairman of the conference.

The high rate of zero vaccination was blamed on the Dengvaxia controversy which resulted in hesitancy and the no-contact policy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Healthcare experts also pushed for early vaccination for children as young as nine years of age against HPV.

HPV infections can cause certain cancer in men and women. It can cause cancer of the cervix, anus, and oropharynx, among others. Vaccination against HPV can prevent over 90 percent of cancer caused by the virus.

Lim said the HPV vaccine “works better in these young children compared with young people” based on scientific studies on children who had been vaccinated.

Dr. Mitzi Maria Chua, an adult infectious diseases specialist, said HPV is common and that 8 out of 10 sexually active people, men and women across all age groups, get infected, while some do not even know they already have it.

“Many people may not be aware that they have acquired HPV and may not have any signs or symptoms,” she said.

She said persistent infection can lead to certain cancers and other HPV-related diseases.

“Sexually active females and males remain vulnerable to HPV-related cancers and diseases throughout their lifespan,” she said.

Despite this alarming public health issue, she said the majority of adults are “unaware” that HPV is associated with cancer other than cervical cancer, and that it can only infect people in polygamous relationships.

Based on DOH records, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women, with over 7,000 new cases and almost 4,000 deaths annually.

The 24th Philippine National Immunization Conference was attended by over 600 doctors, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists.