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We must continue vaccination against polio to keep the American continent free of the disease: PAHO

ByMicheal Johnson

Oct 24, 2020

The countries of the American continent should keep vaccinating children against poliomyelitis and maintain epidemiological surveillance actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent outbreaks, stressed the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on World Polio Day, celebrated every October 24.
While America was the first region in the world to be declared polio-free more than 25 years ago, just a continuous vaccination and strong vigilance can sustain such an important achievement, the agency warned.

“If we allow vaccination coverage rates to decrease, we will run the risk of poliovirus circulating again in our communities,” emphasized PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.

Less vaccination due to the pandemic

In recent years, the regional polio vaccination coverage rate on the continent has been below the recommended 95%. During the 2016-2019 period, the coverage reported for the third dose of oral polio vaccine ranged between 85% and 87%. Projections indicate that in 2020 this coverage could decline in many countries due to outages of primary health care activities caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuauht√©moc Ruiz Matus, head of PAHO’s Immunization Program, pointed out that it is precisely now, in the environment of the pandemic, when you must work harder so as not to lose what you have gained.

He explained that important factors in the success of the region’s fight against polio include the strong political commitment from governments and communities, strategic alliances between international organizations, the support of independent partners and the tireless work of health workers who focused on protecting all children with the vaccine. “Without all these things, we would not be where we are today,” said Ruiz Matus.

The pandemic of COVID-19 has overwhelmed essential health services, including immunization services and epidemiological surveillance systems aimed at rapidly detecting vaccine-preventable diseases and enabling rapid response before outbreaks occur, as health workers across the region have focused on the response to the current health emergency.

UNICEF / William Urdaneta

Paulina, 10, receives a vaccine distributed by UNICEF in Venezuela

25 years without polio in the countries of America

The American continent reported its last case of polio caused by wild poliovirus in 1991 and in 1994 it was the first región to receive the virus removal certification.

Lessons learned in the Americas on epidemiological surveillance and initiatives focused on the sustainability of the immunization programs Through the PAHO Revolving Fund, they have been shared with immunization programs around the world and currently five of the six regions of the World Health Organization, which represent more than 90% of the world’s population, have been certified as free from wild polio.

Currently only two countries continue to record transmission wild poliovirus: Pakistan and Afghanistan.