ISLAMABAD, Oct 21: Compared to last year, more people have started refusing polio vaccines to their children.

This was stated in the consolidated report of the latest National Anti-Polio Campaign obtained from the Prime Minister Monitoring and Coordination Cell.

In September 2013, 65,947 families in the country refused to have their children vaccinated while during a similar campaign in September last year, 45,122 families had refused.

The report stated that 33,320,524 children were given anti-polio vaccination across the country in September this year whereas the target was set at 34,175,758 children.

The table provides a breakup of the number of families which refused to allow the polio team to administer the vaccine. It also shows the total number of children vaccinated in the areas.

It may be mentioned here that the anti-polio campaign was launched in limited areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

“More incidents related to refusal of polio vaccines would have surfaced if the campaign had been launched in all districts of the country,” said an official of the polio monitoring cell.

He said refusal cases were increasing in the country and there was a dire need to mobilise the society and apprise people of the importance of the vaccine.

He added that people had to be educated about polio complications and the misconceptions in this regard had to be addressed.

Why the refusal

Unicef had established a communication network (COMNET) to mobilise people and encourage them to vaccinate their children. Communication officers were recruited from district and union council levels on lucrative salaries, but the increase in refusal incidents has led to questions about their performance.

When contacted, a Unicef official, requesting not to be named, said repeated anti-polio vaccination campaigns were a major reason for the refusal. “People think that a polio vaccination twice or thrice a year is enough,” he said.

He added that in most urban areas, people believed that they already had gotten their children vaccinated.

“Communication officers and mobilisation teams are struggling to convince people that there is no harm in repeated polio vaccinations as the immune system of our children is weak. Two or three vaccinations are not enough,” he said.

The Unicef official added that political issues were also hindering the campaigns. He said the Taliban had prevented anti-polio campaigns in troubled areas of the tribal belt and had demanded that drone attacks should be stopped first.

Similarly, religious issues such as some prayer leaders’ decree that polio vaccines were Haraam (prohibited) also created problems.

He said: “In some flood-hit areas of Punjab, KP and Sindh, the local administrations gave incentives such as food items to vaccinate the children. Later, people started expecting incentives and refused vaccinations without these,” he added.

The official said that mobilisation teams had been established in 46 districts of the country.

“High risk union councils are the main focus of these teams and mobilisation will increase when the teams visit union councils in the country,” he said.

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