International efforts to improve dengue communication and advocacy have increased over the last years, as dengue becomes one of the fastest spreading vector-borne diseases. However, few concerted efforts have been agreed upon at the international level to effectively communicate about dengue vaccines. The recent approvals in Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil and El Salvador of the first dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia®, coupled with the progress of seven other vaccine candidates, call for urgent focus on this topic. Dengue-endemic countries need scientific evidence to inform their decisions on vaccine introduction. Waiting to plan until vaccine licensure, as routinely occurs, may unnecessarily delay access to dengue vaccines in developing countries by years.

Where do we stand today in understanding dengue vaccines? What has been done to generate knowledge in this area and how has it been communicated? The Sabin Vaccine Institute seeks to answer these questions in a new publication titled “International Dengue Vaccine Communication and Advocacy: Challenges and Way Forward,” published today in a Dengue Special Edition of Expert Review of Vaccines. This special edition also includes important updates on dengue vaccine development. 

As the advocacy arm of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative, an international consortium that includes the International Vaccine Institute, the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University and the Vaccine Research Center at the World Health Organization, Sabin provides a unique perspective on effective communication and advocacy about dengue vaccines. The article explains that several unknowns on dengue vaccines pose challenges to communication and advocacy on the subject. These include uncertainties of vaccine impact, vaccine access and dengue’s complex pathogenesis and epidemiology. Sabin seeks to better assist dengue vaccine introduction by outlining these potentially contentious topics and knowledge gaps now, opening the conversation to partners to consider how to address them.

The global health community has the opportunity to agree on what we know, what we don’t, what answers we need, and how to communicate about dengue vaccines in a way that resonates with dengue stakeholders and ultimately benefits dengue-endemic countries. The first step in this process will be to develop universally agreed-upon messages to address uncertainties about dengue and dengue vaccines.

Applying best practices from previous vaccines would also benefit dengue vaccine communication and advocacy, despite the uncertainties that remain. The key is laying the groundwork now for countries to be better positioned to access dengue vaccines as they become available, and when the evidence supports their introduction.

The article concludes with three recommendations to improve dengue communication and advocacy:

  • Consolidate existing coalitions under one strategic, unifying strategy
  • Convene stakeholders in an annual meeting to formulate the roadmap for integrated dengue prevention and control
  • Improve dissemination of scientific knowledge about dengue by training scientists and journalists to communicate more effectively

During first-generation dengue vaccine introduction, there will be greater pressure from endemic countries for training and best practices on effective communication and advocacy for dengue vaccines, when the evidence supports vaccine introduction. This experience will be not only instrumental for the fight against dengue, but a learning opportunity for other emerging vector-borne diseases such as chikungunya and Zika. We must seize this opportunity now.

This article is meant to spur conversations on how to take advantage of these opportunities; identify dengue vaccine unknowns that must be addressed; and other lessons learned that need to be disseminated to dengue-endemic countries. Read the full article.