RIO DE JANEIRO – Long lines formed outside health stations on the first day of a campaign to vaccinate the entire population of Rio de Janeiro city against yellow fever, a disease that has claimed 144 lives in Brazil in recent months.
Seeking protection against a virus that has spread rapidly in other Brazilian regions but caused just one death in Rio de Janeiro state, hundreds of Rio residents began lining up well before the 233 health posts set up for the campaign opened their doors at 8 am.
The goal is to immunize the 6.5 million inhabitants of Brazil’s most emblematic city and biggest tourist magnet, especially the most vulnerable members of the population and those with plans to travel to rural areas.
The metropolis’ Health Department superintendent, Cristina Lemos, urged the population to remain calm, saying the campaign would last as long as necessary and that fear of yellow fever was not justified in a city that has not had a single case of that acute, mosquito-borne viral disease.
Municipal authorities launched the campaign after a pair of yellow fever cases were confirmed two weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro state.
Five cases and one death have been confirmed to date in that southeastern state, all of them in the coastal town of Casemiro de Abreu, 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Rio de Janeiro city.
The spread of the disease to Rio de Janeiro state prompted several Latin American countries (Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela) to require tourists arriving from Brazil to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever.
The yellow fever outbreak is concentrated in the country’s heavily populated southeastern region, mainly in the states of Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with a total of 448 cases confirmed thus far in 80 municipalities.