PAHO urges vaccination against polio in the Americas due to risk of reappearance

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday asked the countries of the Americas to redouble efforts to vaccinate children against polio and thus prevent it from becoming active again almost three decades after it was eradicated.

The polio vaccination rate with the three doses was 82% in 2020, the lowest since 1994, when the continent was certified free of the disease, PAHO reported in a statement.

Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus or poliovirus that is transmitted primarily through contact with infected feces and can affect the nervous system, causing paralysis in the legs or arms.

"The threat of the reintroduction of polio in the region is real"said Andrés de Francisco, Director of Family and Health Promotion at PAHO. "We can’t go back. Avoiding polio cases depends on having a highly vaccinated child population and strong disease surveillance"he added.

In 1975, before widespread immunization, nearly 6,000 children in the region were paralyzed by the disease.

If vaccination coverage is not higher than 95% in each municipality, polio can return. In 2020, 12 countries reported coverage below 80% for the third dose of the vaccine.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many control efforts were put on hold and vaccination rates are estimated to have continued to decline, a trend that began even earlier.

Last week, Malawi authorities declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 after a case was detected in a young child in the capital, Lilongwe.

The last case of polio in Malawi was recorded in 1992 and Africa was declared free of the disease in 2020.

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The viral strain detected in Malawi is genetically related to a poliovirus detected in 2019 and 2020 in Pakistan, which along with Afghanistan are the only countries where polio remains endemic.

"The recent case of wild poliovirus in Africa is a reminder that when the virus continues to circulate, children around the world are at risk."Francisco warned. "Countries must do everything possible to ensure that the Americas remain free of the disease".

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