Polio martyrs

Polio vaccinators were regularly being attacked


August 18, 2022

Another attack on polio workers led to the martyrdom of two policemen assigned to their security detail. While it is not yet clear who was responsible for the attack in Tank, it was another illustration of the decaying law and order situation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where terrorism has seen a recent resurgence. Reports also indicate that several Tehreek-e-Taliban fighters have been flooding into Swat and other parts of the province. However, while the threat of violence is an obvious factor in derailed vaccination efforts, it is disappointing that all of our federal and provincial governments over the past several years have failed to open people’s eyes to the need for and safety of vaccination.

Lest we forget, even in the ‘good times’ when terrorist threats were low, polio vaccinators were regularly being attacked — something that is unheard of in almost every other country in the world. The messaging failure that has led to the continuing threat to polio workers is also the same reason the disease is still endemic in Pakistan. Given how far the rest of the world has come in recent years — only Pakistan and Afghanistan are now considered polio-endemic countries — it is a matter of shame.

On the same note, it is also concerning that new cases are being detected in several countries which had eradicated polio several years ago. Considering that most of these countries have also shifted to using the injectable polio vaccine (IPV), which is more expensive but has zero chance of causing vaccine-derived infections, it does not take a rocket scientist — or, in this case, a virologist — to determine which countries the original carrier of the virus would have come from.

It is worth noting though that most of the cases where IPV is used have been among vaccine skeptics, which is a problem we are all too familiar with. But while disinformation abroad is spread mostly over social media, here, community leaders such as clerics take the lion’s share of the blame. However, recent reports have also suggested that parents, possibly with the connivance of some government officials, have been falsifying records. But whatever the motiving factors, it is clear that the people most responsible for vaccine skepticism and refusal are doing a disservice, not just to their own children, but to the entire country.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2022.

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