The low vaccination rate alerts to the return of poliomyelitis

There is a great risk that Brazil will lose all the efforts made for decades in the field of infantile paralysis, a disease caused by the poliomyelitis virus. After causing fear in the Brazilian population between the 1950s and 1980s, the last recorded case of a patient in the country dates back to 1989. Today, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a branch of the The World Health Organization (WHO), assesses Brazilian conditions are “high risk” for the return of poliomyelitis.

The main reason is that since the creation of the first national vaccination campaign against the disease, 42 years ago, vaccination coverage in Brazil has never been so low. More recent data from the Ministry of Health, referring to 2021, indicates that the three-dose vaccination rate for the target audience, consisting of children up to 1 year old, has increased from 96.55% in 2012 to 67 .71% in 2021 Since 2015, Brazil has not reached the 95% mark, considered safe to protect the population. “When people travel again, there is a risk of the virus entering the country. All the efforts made over the past 40 years could be lost,” says epidemiologist José Cássio de Moraes, professor at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Santa Casa de São Paulo. “The scenario is worrying,” confirms the doctor.

In 2021, the Americas celebrated the 30th anniversary of the last wild poliovirus transmission in the region. However, the disease continues to circulate around the world.

Poliomyelitis is considered endemic in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this year outbreaks have been identified in Israel and Malawi, in Africa. If the virus enters Brazil, it will find fertile ground to spread. Currently, 500,000 Brazilian children are unprotected against poliomyelitis, according to researcher Akira Homma, senior scientific advisor at Bio-Manguinhos.

Lack of communication

Some factors explain the low coverage rate in the country. One of the main ones is the weakening of vaccination campaigns, explains Moraes, responsible for the implementation of the polio vaccination plan in the state of São Paulo in the 1980s.

“The volume of communication was enormous. Every time a TV show was paused, there was an ad talking about the campaign. The population understood the importance of having children vaccinated and massively attended the health facilities,” he recalls. “In October 2021, the Ministry of Health tried to recover vaccination coverage, but nobody knew about it. The action was jokingly called a secret campaign.

Another reason for the decline is the fact that young people are no longer afraid of certain infectious diseases. “Young couples who have children no longer know what poliomyelitis is. They have not seen children with sequelae and, therefore, they have lost their perception of the danger a little”, underlines pediatrician Renato Kfouri, president of the Scientific Department of Immunizations of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics. “Even health professionals, who no longer treat these cases, are less categorically asking for patients’ vaccination schedules to be updated. If we don’t talk about it, we risk creating a generation that no longer values ​​the vaccine.

This combo also includes fake news associated with vaccines. “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how important vaccines are. After drinking water, it is the greatest weapon against infectious diseases. Therefore, anti-vaccine groups are doing a disservice to public health,” points out Sheila Homsani, medical director of Sanofi Vaccines.

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