The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned that Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Peru are at “very high risk” of reappearance of polio, as the lower vaccination rates seen during the Covid pandemic led to a historic drop in levels. of immunization
Polio vaccination coverage in the Americas fell 79 percent, its lowest level since 1994, PAHO said.
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Earlier this month, the New York government declared a statewide emergency to speed up efforts to vaccinate residents after the virus was detected in water samples in four counties.
Virus contamination has also been detected in London and Jerusalem.
“Let’s be very clear,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told reporters. “Polio is not a treatable disease. Prevention is the only option and this is only possible with vaccines.”
Polio can cause irreversible paralysis in some cases, but it can be prevented with a vaccine first made available in 1955. While there is no known cure, three injections of the vaccine provide nearly 100 percent immunity.
Public health authorities have said vaccine hesitancy has played a role in the drop in polio immunization. In addition, the pandemic caused the worst interruption of routine vaccinations of populations in a generation, according to the UN.
Etienne said the latest health crisis had left many unprotected against polio, after vaccines eradicated the disease in the region 30 years ago.
The expert added that Argentina, the Bahamas, Ecuador, Panama, Suriname and Venezuela had also been identified as high-risk countries, and that almost all of South America currently has immunization coverage below 80 percent.
There are currently no confirmed cases of polio in Latin America and the Caribbean, but PAHO urged all countries in the region to strengthen surveillance and act proactively with unvaccinated communities.
Polio terrified parents around the world during the first half of the 20th century. The disease, which primarily affects children under the age of five, is often asymptomatic but can also cause conditions such as fever and vomiting. About one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, and up to 10 percent die.