Brazilians rush to get yellow fever vaccinations amid fatal cases

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilians lined up for hours to get yellow fever vaccinations in Brazil’s largest states, alarmed by the increase in the number of fatal cases of infection and a warning from the World Health Organization to tourists visiting parts of the country.

In Belo Horizonte, a city in the central eastern state of Minas Gerais, people had to wait up to seven hours for a shot because health centers were not prepared for the surge in demand, a state spokeswoman said.

People were being turned away at some health centers in Minas Gerais and in the southeastern state Sao Paulo because vaccines and syringes had run out, Brazilian media reported.

The WHO said on Tuesday that the whole of Sao Paulo state, which includes South America’s largest city, Sao Paulo, should be considered at risk for yellow fever and recommended foreign travelers get vaccinated before visiting.

But Brazil’s Health Ministry said the recommendation, coming just weeks before Carnival, a holiday event in which tens of thousands of tourists descend on Brazil, would not cause it to change its advisory that only travelers going to rural areas be vaccinated. All known cases of infection were in rural areas where the mosquito that carries the virus can be found.

Most of the new cases have been reported in the states of Sao Paulo, where 11 people have died of yellow fever since July last year, and Minas Gerais, where four new deaths were reported this week for a total of 15.

Federal and state health authorities said there were enough vaccines to cover inoculation campaigns that have been stepped up in the main regions affected.

They said public health centers would have priority access to vaccines stocks. Some private drug store chains said they had sold out their shots.

“So many people have rushed to get vaccinated that health centers were not prepared, but there is no shortage of vaccines,” said Vivian Campos, a spokeswoman for the Minas Gerais state health secretary.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Grant McCool