In three months, Brazil still hasn’t vaccinated half of children aged 5 to 11 against Covid

Initiated nationally in January, the campaign to vaccination of children between 5 and 11 years old against Covid-19 in Brazil it has not yet managed to cover even half of the target audience estimated by the Ministry of Health, which is around 20.5 million people.

Data from the Ministry of Health updated on March 5th show that 9.7 million children in this age group started the vaccination schedule, which represents approximately 47.5% of the expected contingent.

For comparison, in the two weeks between June 17 and 8, 2021, over 22 million adult first doses were given, which demonstrates that system capacity is not the issue.

Health centers are ready to vaccinate, but parental resistance has been the main challenge, says Flávia Bravo, director of SBIm (Brazilian Society of Immunizations).

“The reason for this, in my opinion, is a lack of communication with the population of the importance of this, dissemination of fake news that spread insecurity and lack of concern”, says the doctor when expressing concern about the scenario of low vaccination coverage.

She cites as an example speeches that vaccines do not have enough data to attest to safety in children, which is a lie, since the immunizers went through the same evaluation process as the adult versions and were approved by the most respected regulatory bodies in the world.

For Flávia, some parents have “the idea that they are protecting their children by keeping them unprotected because, theoretically, they believe that vaccines are new, that they may be unsafe or bring harm in the future”.

Pediatrician Ana Escobar, from the Institute for Children and Adolescents, Hospital das Clínicas, Faculty of Medicine, USP (University of São Paulo), regrets that there are no more mobilizations in vaccination campaigns.

“There is no public campaign to take children to be vaccinated, I would need much more information. When vaccine coverage drops, diseases start to appear. It is only when diseases appear that it seems that people run to the clinic to get a vaccine.”

Respiratory virus season increases risk

The moment is of alert for health authorities and doctors. Traditionally, autumn and winter are the times of year when children are most sick from respiratory infections.

Fiocruz (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz) draws attention in a recent bulletin to the increase of more than 300% in hospitalizations for severe acute respiratory syndrome, precisely among children aged 5 to 11 years, with the coronavirus being one of the responsible for this phenomenon.

“Children tend to have milder or asymptomatic conditions [de Covid]but they are not risk free. And there is a risk of an increase in records of severe acute respiratory syndrome precisely in this age group. They are getting sick and keeping the virus circulating. With this, the possibility of infecting the vulnerable and the emergence of new variants”, says the SBIm doctor.

In addition to the coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, rhinovirus, among other pathogens that usually take children to the emergency room, circulate with more intensity.

It should be noted that the infection can be caused by more than one virus at the same time.

Another cause for concern is that Covid-19 in children, especially after the emergence of the Ômicron variant, can present itself in an “atypical” way, according to the SBIm representative.

“What we have observed are symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, which are not typical of respiratory diseases and can often be confused with gastroenteritis, with an enterovirus, and it is actually Covid.”

Therefore, adds Flávia Bravo, by preventing diseases for which there is a vaccine, it is easier to diagnose and treat others.

By the end of 2021, Brazil had recorded 324 deaths from Covid-19 of children between 5 and 11 years old, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

AN SIM-P (pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome)condition that appears in some children after Covid-19, is another fear among doctors.

The deaths caused by SIM-P in Brazil are above the world average. The Ministry of Health had registered at least 85 deaths from this syndrome by the end of last year.

Measures to encourage vaccination

Ana Escobar emphasizes that the low vaccine coverage against Covid-19 in children is a reflection of what is happening with other vaccines, such as measles.

“For example, now we are going to start the flu vaccine, there is very little advertising about the importance of the flu vaccine. The childhood vaccination coverage in Brazil is worryingly low. [aos postos]. Children are at the mercy of diseases we haven’t heard of in decades.”

A survey by Undime (National Union of Municipal Education Officers) shows that only 37% of Brazilian cities require vaccination certificates in children’s schools.

The objective in this case is not to prevent children from accessing school, but to alert Guardianship Councils so that they can contact the families.

“It is an action that has to involve the whole of society”, emphasizes Flávia Bravo.

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