World Polio Day: Polio: all about the disease and the need for vaccination

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From the turn of the 21st century to the 2013-2015 triennium, the polio vaccine it was a guaranteed presence in child vaccination books in Brazil. Its coverage always reached 100% or something very close to that. From 2016 onwards, however, this percentage has been falling, until reaching the point of staying at around 70% in the national average in 2019.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health wants to reverse this situation. Despite the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the national vaccination campaign is focused, throughout the month of October, on updating the passbooks and reaching the goal of 95% coverage of the polio vaccine, disease that causes childhood paralysis.

But why did adherence to droplets against polio drop so much? We spoke with Juarez Cunha, president of the Brazilian Society of Immunizations (SBIm), and Renato Kfouri, president of the Scientific Department of Immunizations of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics (SBP), to understand this phenomenon and also to know exactly what the risks are that children and society run because of the lack of vaccination.

A disease “from the past”

Cunha and Kfouri affirm that the biggest problem in relation to adherence to the polio vaccine is that it is considered by many to be a disease of the past, something that no longer exists (although it still exists – not in Brazil, but in other countries).

In addition, factors such as the difficulty of taking children to UBSs during business hours, the possible lack of vaccines and fake news make it difficult. But, as Kfouri puts it, “none of this would matter if people were afraid of the disease, knew the ills it can cause.”

“There is false security about diseases that have never been seen. The last case of polio in Brazil was in 1989, and it has parents who were not even born that year. As the disease no longer happens in our country, many have the impression that they no longer need to vaccinate their children ”, observes Cunha.

But they do. Polio type 1 still occurs in the world and, even with many borders temporarily closed due to the pandemic, there is always a risk that it will “travel”. Until September of this year, the two countries in which the disease is still endemic registered 204 cases: 147 in Pakistan and 57 in Afghanistan, as the president of SBIm says.

Vaccine virus: dangerous, but not in Brazil

In some countries that still use live attenuated type 2 viruses in polio vaccine – in Africa and South America – cases of polio have been registered in the last few years, precisely type 2.

The so-called “vaccine virus” is as dangerous as it is rare: 1 case for every million inhabitants. But in Brazil there is no cause for concern, since the vaccine produced and distributed here uses dead viruses.

Understand polio better

Polio is a disease caused by poliovirus, which enters the body through airways and mouth (in contaminated food and water) and is eliminated by faeces (which cause contamination). Transmission occurs especially in environments of poor hygiene and inadequate basic sanitation.

Its symptoms are similar to those of a flu or intestinal infection and its consequences are devastating. Kfouri explains: “Polio causes acute paralysis and affects especially the lower limbs, reaching the arms and even the respiratory muscles and leaving sequels for life”.

This because inflammations caused by poliovirus are irreversible. Those with infantile paralysis usually lose control of the muscles in one of the legs or arms. The most serious cases are respiratory, where intubation is necessary.

There is no treatment or remedy for the polio virus. What you do is wait for it to leave the body naturally and then take care of the consequences.

Vaccination against polio in Brazil

In our country, immunization against polio is applied in five doses: three injectables (at 2, 4 and 6 months of age) and two reinforcements with the famous droplet (at 15 months and 4 years).

In the 2020 campaign, everyone who has not taken all five doses will be able to update their passbook, regardless of age. It is also possible to receive doses of vaccines against other diseases that are missing to complete the recommended immunization schedule in Brazil.

The vaccine is safe, effective and free. We have to stimulate and value vaccination, remember that it is not only a protection for your child, but for the collective – the more people vaccinated, the lower the risk of the virus circulating again in Brazil. It is an act of love and citizenship ”, sums up Cunha, from SBIm.

Is it safe to go to UBS to get vaccines in the middle of a pandemic?

Yes. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is absolutely safe to go to the UBS closest to your home to vaccinate your children in this campaign and outside. The safety and hygiene protocol put in place by the Ministry of Health considers measures to guarantee distance, avoid agglomerations and control infections through the mandatory use of masks, gloves and other protective equipment.

The coordinator of the National Immunization Program (PNI), Francieli Fantinato, clarifies that “the measures aim at the safety of health workers and the community”. She also points out that “vaccines need to be updated to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks of diseases such as yellow fever and measles, as well as the mortality of vulnerable groups”.

Let’s face it: in the middle of a pandemic, the last thing Brazil needs is an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease, isn’t it? Learn how to keep your passbook up to date even in times of coronavirus.

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