We are Turning Into a Nation of Anti-Vaxxers After the Dengvaxia Controversy

Only 32% of Filipinos have confidence in vaccines following the recent Dengvaxia controversy—a dramatic drop in confidence rates that may spell disaster when it comes to fighting a pandemic, says a new international study.

This alarming drop in public confidence when it comes to vaccines was recorded in a scientific paper published in the journal Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics. Thanks to the Vaccine Confidence Project, we see that confidence levels in 2015 showed 93% “strongly agreeing” that vaccines are important in 2015. In 2018, after the public outrage around Dengvaxia, the rate is now only 32%.

In a country where access to healthcare remains a persistent problem, vaccines are crucial in fighting the possibility of a catastrophic pandemic.

The paper places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the panic following the Dengvaxia controversy. After Sanofi announced that the new dengue vaccine posed a risk to patients who had no previous exposure to the virus—possibly a very small percentage of the population in a tropical country like the Philippines—the reaction in the Philippines was overblown. "While some countries proceeded with adjusting guidance accordingly, the Philippines reacted with outrage and political turmoil with naming and shaming of government officials involved in purchasing the vaccine, as well as scientists involved in the vaccine trials and assessment. The result was broken public trust around the dengue vaccine as well heightened anxiety around vaccines in general." 

The Department of Health has reported that even their National Deworming Campaign, which took place last January, was affected by the Dengvaxia scandal: The number of participants decreased by 50% in the last year.

Just as the paper predicts, the distrust has already affected Filipinos' behavior when it comes to seeking health care. The Department of Health has reported that even their National Deworming Campaign, which took place last January, was affected by the Dengvaxia scandal: The number of participants decreased by 50% in the last year.


Speaking to the Philippine News Agency, DOH officer Dr. Ronald Jarvik Buscato drew a direct line between the Dengvaxia scandle and the lack of response to this deworming program. “The problem that we are facing now is the decrease in our accomplishment in deworming in 2018 because of the issue regarding the Dengvaxia vaccine,” Buscato said.

The paper agrees that the government outcry and public panic in response to the Dengvaxia scandal is largely to blame for the massive drop in confidence. The aftermath of the panic is a story of “the cost of broken trust in the context of high risk,” writes the paper's authors, led by British epidemiologist Heidi J. Larson.

"With the advent of the internet and social media, the viral spread of anxieties, beliefs and rumours has reached unprecedented levels of speed and spread around the world. Social media platforms like Facebook have been used as to propagate fake news and unsubstantiated allegations, viciously damaging programs, institutions and individuals without checks and balance. Critical thinking has become increasingly challenged by belief in conspiracy and false narratives," reads the paper. 

The World Health Organization still counts immunization as one of its most important interventions globally. Reads a statement from the WHO: "There is arguably no single preventive health intervention more cost-effective than immunization. Time and again, the international community has endorsed the value of vaccines and immunization to prevent and control a large number of infectious diseases and, increasingly, several chronic diseases that are caused by infectious agents."

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Gaby Flores
Gaby Flores is a contributing writer for Esquire. She likes postcolonial literature and spicy food.
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