“Is June 11th vaccine day? Yes, sir. Is it a party day at the health center? Yes, sir.” This is the text of a campaign starring the charismatic Zé Gotinha, in the mid-1990s. The character, baptized in a contest that mobilized thousands of children, is the great symbol of the National Immunization Program – PNI, which will complete 50 years in 2023 Brazil, however, has the worst vaccination coverage rate in 30 years: 3 out of 10 children are behind on vaccines. The subject will be the topic of Caminhos da Reportagem today (9), at 10 pm, on TV Brazil.
The director of the PNI, Eder Gatti, explains that vaccination rates were consolidated in the 1990s. In 1994, Brazil was certified as a Poliomyelitis-free zone. However, from 2015 “we started to register a drop in coverage of several vaccines. And this progressively got worse until we reached the year 2022 with all vaccines at levels below the desired level.”
Low coverage puts the country and especially children at risk, as diseases that have already been eradicated can return to Brazilian territory. “From the moment you have many children without immunization, any disease that enters this environment spreads explosively. We run the risk, yes, of seeing outbreaks of diseases that had already been expelled from the country, due to lack of vaccination”, warns biologist and science popularizer, Átila Iamarino.
In 2019 Brazil lost the measles-free zone certificate. That year, administrator Verônica Neri contracted the disease. The youngest daughter, then 7 months old, was also infected and spent 30 days in the ICU. “My daughter got it because other people didn’t get vaccinated. And the measles returned. I passed. I didn’t lose my daughter over that. But, unfortunately, other people must have lost it”, laments Verônica. Between 2018 and 2021, 26 children lost their lives to the disease.
The decline in vaccination coverage is complex and involves a number of factors. The covid-19 pandemic directed SUS efforts to combat the disease; parents avoided leaving home to vaccinate their children; and the distrust cast over vaccines, as well as the speech of authorities, such as former president Jair Bolsonaro, stimulated denialism. To the fake news and the antivaccine, or antivax, groups also enter into this equation. For agents of the public health system, the important thing now is to win back the Brazilian population. “Unlike other countries, Brazil has never had an important percentage of an anti-vax population. On the contrary, Brazil has always had a huge adherence of our population, especially on the part of families in relation to vaccines”, says pulmonologist and researcher at Fiocruz, Margareth Dalcomo.
immunization at home
For this resumption, municipalities like Campina Grande, in Paraíba, and the country’s capital, Brasília, invest in taking the vaccine door-to-door. The idea is to regain people’s bond and trust. “We saw that it was not necessarily something against the vaccine, it was simply the difficulty of accessing this vaccine”, clarifies Ramá de Oliveira Cardoso, coordinator of Primary Health Care in the Federal District. “If the family is not yet taking the child to be vaccinated, the vaccine has to reach the child wherever he/she is: riverside families, quilombolas, indigenous people. The SUS is able to do this. Because there is a vaccine”, adds the head of Health and HIV at Unicef Brazil, Cristina Albuquerque.
Last recorded case of polio in Brazil, Devison Rodrigues is now personal trainer and a big advocate of vaccination. He had taken 3 of the 5 doses against the disease and survived without any sequelae. His mother says she believes her son is a miracle. Of faith and vaccines. “It was an achievement, right? I thank God. I thank my parents. I always intend to be, in Brazil, the last case of polio”, concludes Devison.
All of these stories will be told and the impact of the drop in vaccination coverage in Brazil will be featured in the episode Vacina, inflância Protected, on Caminhos da Reportagem, which will air this Sunday (09), at 10 pm, on TV Brazilalso debuting simultaneously on YouTube from the broadcaster.