PESHAWAR: Following gun attacks, health teams are vaccinating children against polio in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa amid growing security fears.

Vaccinators told Dawn that they’re struggling to reach children in some areas to administer polio drops.

Two policemen and a health worker were injured after being attacked by armed men during the house-to-house vaccination campaign on Monday.

A woman vaccinator insisted as she had been associated with anti-polio campaigns for some years, she believed vaccine hesitancy was unlikely to go away “anytime soon” due to people’s opposition to vaccination for one reason or another.

“The latest argument advanced by some parents is strange. They oppose vaccination, citing the failure of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been supporting polio vaccination in Pakistan, to help out Palestinian children facing Israeli attacks,” she told Dawn.

They struggle to reach children in some KP areas

The vaccinator said the argument was trending on social media, inspiring even educated people.

A senior pediatrician told Dawn that it was the responsibility of the government to pave the way for vaccination and do away with the childhood ailment that had long been eradicated worldwide using the same vaccine.

He said polio vaccination had never been carried out peacefully, as in every drive, police and health workers were attacked by miscreants.

“The situation actually worsened after a Pakistani doctor was found to be running a fake polio campaign to reach Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2012. After that incident, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan banned polio campaigns in Waziristan, insisting vaccinators were deployed by the US to identify the whereabouts of its leaders for drone attacks,” he said.

He also said vaccination refusal was based on the allegation that polio drops were harmful and were meant under a Western “plot” to render children impotent to reduce the Muslim population.

“Amid baseless propaganda, the children continue to stay unvaccinated to be vulnerable to poliovirus,” he said.

Officials said Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan were the last polio-endemic countries left in the world.

Both recorded six polio cases each last year. However, no case has so far been detected in Pakistan this year. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported four of last year’s six cases and remained in spotlight due to a failure to eradicate the virus, according to them.

Officials said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had long been home to poliovirus but vaccination drives were taking place despite looming threats from vaccine opponents. Since 2012, 109 people have been killed, they said.

Officials said the ongoing campaign targetted 7.4 million children, for which 35,000 anti-polio teams had been deployed along with 55,000 security personnel to protect health workers.

Health experts believed that poliomyelitis would continue to haunt children because vaccinators opted to be part of the team due to their economic problems, and in the process, they skipped the houses where they faced resistance.

They said the government should thwart the anti-vaccine campaigns because, in the absence of any strategies, the anti-vaccines get boosted.

“These are large polio campaigns, so the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pumping money into them,” an expert told Dawn.

He said there were a lot of takers of propaganda against the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The government must counter this propaganda; otherwise, police and health workers would continue to die and sustain injuries in polio campaigns, and children would get infected,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2024

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