MINAS GERAIS — After two failed attempts to get vaccinated against yellow fever, 72-year-old José Pedro de Jesus woke up before dawn to get the job done. He lives in a municipality in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais in Brazil called Piedade de Caratinga, where four people are believed to have died of the disease. On Tuesday, he reached the health care center at 1 a.m.
"I'd come at dawn the days before but I could never get a ticket and that made me nervous. I don't like lines. So today, I decided to come early," the pensioner told us as he waited outside the facility, which was set to open at 7 a.m. He was vaccinated at 8 a.m. Since Jan. 10, this municipality of 8,000 inhabitants has experienced long lines of people desperate to be immunized against yellow fever. As of Jan. 16, there had been 152 suspected cases in the state of Minas Gerais including 47 deaths.
The increasing demand for immunization against yellow fever means that some municipalities in Minas Gerais have run out of vaccines and are considered by the local government to be in a state of emergency. In the suburbs around Piedade de Caratinga, two healthcare centers that still have vaccines only distribute a limited number every day, depending on the quantities they receive from the state health ministry. The number of doses distributed, which can usually reach up to 500 a day in some facilities, has fallen since the beginning of the outbreak last week. It's because of this restriction that people like José Pedro de Jesus have had to arrive before the sun is out.
The city's other facility started distributing waiting numbers for the 200 vaccines they have available once they opened at 7 a.m. but only started administering vaccinations at 1 p.m.
"We hand out one ticket per person. We've given more in the past, when people asked for it, but it created tensions with others and we even had to call the police sometimes," says Cristiana Ferreira, one of the nurses.
Célio Machado, a farmer, arrived at the facility at 3:40 a.m. in the hope of obtaining 10 tickets for his colleagues at the farm. He says he had previously managed to get five tickets at one ago. This time, he got only one.
Local authorities in Piedade de Caratinga say that half the population has already been vaccinated and that they've also sent healthcare workers to rural areas where the outbreak is concentrated.
"End of Time"
The rising number of infected people has caused distress across the city and region. At the emergency ward of a local hospital, people complain of fever and headaches and believe they are infected. The prefecture ordered 10 beds to be quarantined.
Pharmacies are fast selling supplies of mosquito repellent since yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes. "My repellent sales have quadrupled," says Wellington Campos, who owns a pharmacy in Piedade de Caratinga. He promises "repellents at a special price" but admits he's not selling them for less than before.
Geraldo Oliveira, the 30-year-old nephew of carpenter Tomé Ladislay de Oliveira, 81, in Piedade de Caratinga, died of yellow fever four days after the first symptoms appeared.
Ladislay de Oliveira attributed the outbreak to "the end of time."
"The prophecy says: It will be an anguish so terrible that no one can imagine it."