A senior Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) official has warned about the polio risk in the rest of the Americas after a recent vaccine-derived poliovirus case in the United States.
Regarding whether the rest of the Americas should be worried, PAHO’s Immunisation Chief, Dr. Daniel Salas, responded in the affirmative.
“The risk of polio reintroduction is real,” Salas declared in the transcript of an interview on PAHO’s official website to mark World Polio Day on Monday.
“We are concerned because millions of children are unvaccinated,” the PAHO official explained.
He disclosed that millions more are under-vaccinated, creating an opportunity for the virus.
According to Salas, the ‘pocket’ of unvaccinated children has been growing in the past few years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when polio vaccination coverage decreased even further.
“We now have a regional coverage of polio of 79% when we should have 95% or more to avoid outbreaks,” Salas observed.
He explained that as a result, many more children are susceptible to polio infection.
At the same time, Salas noted that surveillance systems have declined in quality, jeopardising the timely detection of cases.
He observed that polio causes irreversible, permanent muscular paralysis.
Nevertheless, Salas noted that a complete vaccination schedule could prevent the disease.
The Americas region was declared polio-free in 1994, eliminating wild poliovirus transmission.
But recently, an unvaccinated 20-year-old man in the United States presented with vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV).
PAHO describes VDPV as a strain related to the weakened poliovirus in the oral polio vaccine.
According to the organisation, on rare occasions, when replicating in the gastrointestinal tract, the strain may spread in communities that do not have full vaccination coverage against polio.