11 July 2023
The percentage of people vaccinated in Brazil has decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health officials say the situation has put millions of people at risk of being infected with diseases that have been under control in Brazil.
Doctors, government agencies and the United Nations Children's Agency, UNICEF, have tried to bring attention to the issue. Official government records show that in 2015, vaccination coverage in Brazil was 95 percent. But that number fell to 68 percent last year.
For polio, vaccinations dropped from 85 percent to 68 percent. Officials are warning that polio could return to Brazil, where it had been eradicated in 1989.
Similar decreases in vaccinations have been recorded for other diseases. The disease measles was declared eradicated from Brazil in 2016. But it returned two years later. And there are fears that diphtheria could be coming back too.
Health experts say the reduction in vaccinations is a growing problem worldwide. But the drops are especially worrying in Brazil, a country of 203 million people that until recently was seen as a leader in nationwide vaccination campaigns.
The French Press Agency (AFP) says that an anti-vaccination movement started spreading in Brazil around 2016. AFP recently reported that the movement got stronger during the term of former President Jair Bolsonaro who served from 2019 to 2022. Bolsonaro had refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and repeatedly raised questions about the safety of the vaccines.
Natalia Pasternak is head of the Question of Science Institute, a public policy organization in Brazil. She told AFP, "It's very sad to see how a country whose vaccination programs set an example for the world can suddenly suffer from an anti-vaccine movement."
Vaccination efforts were slow to get started in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic. But an organized and expanded campaign launched later is credited with helping to slow the spread of the disease. Official numbers show that in Brazil, more than 700,000 people died from COVID-19. That is second only to the United States, which reported more than 1.1 million deaths.
Brazilian health officials say that by early 2022, the country had vaccinated 93 percent of adults against COVID-19. But after that, vaccinations began falling again – both for COVID-19 and other vaccines.
Many things might be influencing decreased vaccinations. These include the failure of people to stay current on vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have also been limited efforts to educate the public about the continuing dangers of diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.
New issues might be making things worse including a mix of politics, polarization and disinformation that exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the anti-vaccination movement continues to grow although Bolsonaro lost the 2022 election to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Isabella Ballalai is with the Brazilian Immunization Society. She told AFP, "We're facing a post-trust scenario, in which families are being attacked by disinformation and lies. It's not just the occasional fake news story, it's very structured."
Ballalai added that the result of bad information could end up being worse than the pandemic itself.
A recent public opinion study found the top reasons parents give for not vaccinating their children were fears of side effects and mistrust of vaccines. The study was carried out by the Brazilian Pediatrics Society and the Question of Science Institute.
Pasternak said she has also advised health officials to think about local issues. "Studies show the best way to convince people to get vaccinated is working with local leaders...People listen to those they trust." But Pasternak admitted the efforts will not be easy, "We have lots of work to do," she said.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Agence France Presse (AFP) reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
eradicate – v. to destroy or completely get rid of something
polarize – v. to cause something to divide into two completely opposing groups
scenario – n. a description of possible actions or events in the future
occasional –adj. something that does not happen all the time or very regularly
fake – adj. false, not true
convince – v. to persuade someone of something