Health experts fear an outbreak of the polio virus in America during the Covid-19 pandemic due to delayed vaccinations and surveillance.
Countries in the region should maintain polio vaccinations and pandemic surveillance to prevent an outbreak, according to experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
“Although as a region we have already beaten polio once, if we allow vaccination rates to fall and become too low, we will again be at risk of polio circulation in our communities,” said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne. “That is why it is more important than ever to do our part to protect and sustain the elimination of polio in our region while we wait for countries in other parts of the world to achieve this goal,” Etienne added.
The pandemic highlights immunization and surveillance systems designed to capture and respond to vaccine-preventable diseases, according to PAHO.
“Now, during the pandemic, we have to work extra so as not to lose what we have won,” said Kuautemok Ruiz Matus, head of PAHO’s immunization program.
Ruiz said strong political commitment from governments, strategic partnerships between international agencies and the work of health workers have contributed to the region’s success in fighting the virus.
“Without all this stuff, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Ruiz said.
The reported coverage of the polio vaccine for America between 2016 and 2019 varies between 85-87%, according to PAHO.
Coverage in 2020 may be lower “due to disruptions in primary health care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to PAHO.
Polio was once a common virus. In some young children, it can affect the nerves and cause muscle weakness or paralysis. There is no cure and cure, but vaccination can prevent infection.