The eradication of smallpox in the 20th century was an unprecedented achievement in the history of public health and the result of multiple efforts based on a strategy with vaccination at its core. The deadly disease was also the first for which a vaccine was developed and one that laid the way for future immunization campaigns. Today, vaccines are available against multiple diseases and have significantly decreased mortality and morbidity worldwide. In Latin America, a large share of the population is now immunized against numerous infections, with the Americas as a whole surpassing various global averages for routine vaccination coverage.
An unequal distribution
Despite improvements in immunization, the region is characterized by an unequal distribution in the share of people vaccinated. This is the case not only between countries, but also between sub-regions, within nations, and throughout vaccine types. While approximately 82 percent of under-one-year-old children in Central America had been immunized against polio in 2020, just under 75 percent of infants had been inoculated against the disease in South America. In contrast to Nicaragua, where this figure amounted to nearly 100 percent, Peru had only vaccinated six in every ten children against the virus. In the case of the human papilloma virus (HPV) the share of 15-year-old girls vaccinated is as low as five percent in Mexico.
New challenges in sight
While overall the region’s immunization level has improved in recent decades, restrictions faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic have threatened the progress achieved to date. In addition to the need for immunizing the population against the new virus, routine vaccination has been limited due to the various constraints brought about by the outbreak. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the share of infants vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis decreased from nearly 88 percent in 2019, to an estimated 82 percent in 2020, a figure that had already declined in previous years.
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