Instances of parents' refusal to allow health workers to administer anti-polio drops to their children rose by 85 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after rumours pertaining to the authenticity of the vaccine provoked hysteria across the province, Dr Ejaz, an official of KP's Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio said on Friday.
Across KP, more than 700,000 families refused to vaccinate children, whereas in the last anti-polio drive — which was held last month — the number of refusal cases was 57,000, Dr Ejaz said. He attributed the alarming increase in the number of refusal cases to rumours spread against the vaccine that is administered to prevent the virus.
In Peshawar alone, the number of refusal cases rose by 79pc as about 164,000 out of 800,000 families refused to allow health workers to administer anti-polio drops to their children, he said. Due to prevailing rumours against the vaccine, anti-polio campaign had to be postponed in 24 union councils of Peshawar.
"This is the highest number of refusal cases reported in an anti-polio campaign," Dr Ejaz said.
"The propaganda against [anti-polio] vaccines created panic in Peshawar and other districts [of KP] and has badly affected the efforts of the government to eradicate polio," he said, adding that the EOC will come up with a new strategy before initiating another anti-polio campaign, which will be held in June. He regretted that the rumours have exposed children to the risk of becoming victims of the crippling polio virus.
Dr Ejaz said that the EOC will take local and religious leaders, as well as members of the civil society, on board in order to allay the fear and misconceptions of parents regarding the vaccine.
Panic over rumours against anti-polio vaccine
Panic spread across Peshawar earlier this week after reports that 75 students at a school in Badhber ─ complaining of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain allegedly after being administered the anti-polio vaccine ─ were admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex. Shortly after, doctors began releasing them, saying they were in stable condition.
Panicked parents continued taking their children to hospitals for checkups till late at night ─ some 300 children visited Lady Reading Hospital ─ and mosques added further grist to the rumours by issuing intermittent warnings over their loudspeakers to not get children vaccinated, and that those who had must reach hospitals to avoid a reaction.
Most children were released after treatment, health workers said. The doctors at LRH said it was psychological, whatever it was that was impacting the children. In Charsadda, 800 children were hospitalised.
Family members and area residents resorted to agitation in protest against the incident. They broke the doors and windows of a hospital during their protest, set a Basic Health Unit in the area on fire and held polio workers hostage for some time.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Saddar Sahibzada Sajjad told DawnNewsTV that a first information report (FIR) had been registered at the Badhber police station against identified individuals for setting fire to a Basic Health Unit and causing widespread panic by rumour-mongering.
Addressing the hysteria across the province, KP Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah Khan held a press conference to debunk the rumours about the vaccine. "We have an inquiry report and the only thing it points towards is panic. The school from where it all started, there should be an investigation against them. These two, three schools had also refused the anti-polio campaign earlier. They did not want drops administered to their students," he claimed.