Brazilian scientists have expressed their concern over a recurrent attitude among parents who have ceased to vaccinate their children against diseases that have been eradicated but which might return without proper care.
According to a study released on the 24th National Immunization Day, 16% of Brazilians considered it unnecessary to apply vaccines to their children against diseases that no longer circulate in the country. The data is from the Vaccine Coverage Survey of children born in 2017 and 2018. More than 38,000 interviews were conducted for the survey.
Despite the apparently small number of cases, experts are concerned, since Brazil has been failing to meet the goals of vaccine coverage and presents a drop in vaccination numbers since 2015. Without meeting the goals, the chances of Brazil returning to diseases that, until then, were considered eliminated or controlled, such as polio, increase.
Since Brazil has not recorded any cases of polio since 1989, many people mistakenly think that it is no longer necessary to be vaccinated against the disease. What happens, however, is that the fewer people get vaccinated, the more the risk of the disease developing again in the country increases, as was the case with measles.
Brazil was certified to have eliminated the disease in 2016, but three years later, with low vaccination coverage, the country lost its recognition for failing to control an outbreak of measles, which spread throughout several states.
The survey also showed that a small number of people (about 3%) decided not to take their children to receive one or more vaccines. Of this total, 24.5% said they did not do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or because of fear of [adverse]reactions to the vaccines (24.4%).
Others (7.6%) said they had tried to take their children to vaccination, but had found it difficult to do so. The main difficulty reported was the fact that health centers were far from homes or workplaces (21%), followed by lack of time (16.6%), inadequate opening hours of the health center (14.1%), and even lack of transportation means to get to the vaccination site (12%).
In the study, we observed that there are three main aspects: the first is the lack of need to vaccinate against diseases that are believed to no longer exist, but do. The second aspect is the fear of serious reactions, and the third is the difficulty of access and the infrastructure of the units. This set causes us to have insufficient vaccination coverage for disease control, said José Cassio de Moraes, professor at the Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Santa Casa de São Paulo and coordinator of the survey.
The consequence of vaccine hesitation, which is due to multiple aspects, is to make the coverage low. This allows the return of already eliminated diseases like poliomyelitis; [it generates] difficulties for the elimination of measles, which we already had; and [results in an] increase in cases of pertussis, diphtheria, and other immune-suppressible diseases, Moraes told Agência Brasil.
Brazil had important success in this [national immunization] program. It was considered a leading program in the world, both in coverage and in the number of vaccines included, but today we run the risk of falling almost to last place, the professor lamented.
For Moraes, it is a worrying situation. Until 2015, we were able to achieve a very good level of coverage. We have good infrastructure: almost 38,000 vaccine rooms, [and] we can easily apply 2 million doses a day, as was shown during the covid-19 pandemic, but we need to make good communication to the population. We don't have proper communication, he said. We can go back in disease occurrence and have hospitals full with a picture of immunopreventable diseases, he added.
The figures also worry Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) representative, Lely Guzman. There is a lot of misinformation. And now, with social media, misinformation comes much faster. We need to be ahead of the curve to identify what is generating the misinformation, where those concerns are being generated, so we can highlight the confidence and safety of the vaccines, Guzman pointed out.
According to the epidemiologist, sanitarian, and bioethicist Guzman, in the last two years of the pandemic, the coverage of routine vaccine programs has fallen sharply, not only in Brazil but throughout the region. And the World Health Organization [WHO] is making a call because in all regions the drop was very important, which puts at risk the return of diseases that were already controlled, that were in the process of elimination, and diseases that are still eradicated.
Guzman insisted on the need to sensitize communities, authorities, the media, universities, and society to believe in the vaccine again. We have to join efforts, she emphasized.
De Moraes concurred: There has to be unity of effort among the three levels of government: federal, state, and municipal. Good communication between these three levels and the population and work with health professionals to train them for the vaccines, he said.
(Source: Agencia Brasil)