Unreasonable refusals

Editorial July 10, 2024


Although it has been a relatively good year so far for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in terms of polio cases — zero new cases, despite a few positive environmental samples — health officials are reporting that many children are still being missed because of pressure on parents from community elders. Over 21,000 children were missed during the April and June vaccination campaigns, with some of the reasons cited including demands for natural resources royalties, resolution of boundary disputes, disaster relief payments, and public works such as water supply schemes.

While these issues are legitimate concerns, tying them to polio vaccination borders on ridiculousness. It is also worth noting that the ‘wise’ elders making the decisions are not at risk of contracting polio, so they don’t have much to lose if the government doesn’t meet their demands. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for children in these areas. The elders are blackmailing the government by holding someone else’s children hostage, and the government would be wise to take other community leaders on board to help separate the issues, or take action against elders. It is the government’s duty to patiently and peacefully explain to people why vaccination is important. It is not its job to let people weaponise public health emergencies.

Similarly, serious action needs to be taken against those spreading disinformation, the most common forms of which are disproven claims that the vaccine is somehow un-Islamic, that it causes impotence, or that it causes severe allergic reactions. Combinations of these claims are regularly among the most common causes of refusal, despite clergy and medical experts reiterating that these are outright false claims. But most of all, the government needs to ensure the success of counterterrorism efforts in the region if it is to reestablish its writ and protect the children who need vaccination, and the vaccinators who are constantly under threat of attack from terrorists and miscreants.


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