Polio Vaccine Campaigns Face Increasing Refusals

Refusals to get children vaccinated against polio are increasing day by day in Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the last three nations considered polio-endemic worldwide – the other two include Afghanistan and Nigeria. Even after 25 years of campaigning, the refusals to get children vaccinated only seems to increase. Within 2020 itself, the refusals for polio vaccine increased from 38,000 in January to 51,000 in February only in Peshawar. A senior official stated that many clusters of 500 refusals were recorded because the vaccination team could not help people understand the logic of frequent vaccines.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is believed to have the highest cases of polio. KPK recorded 92 of 146 cases countrywide in 2019, and has recorded 12 cases of the total 25 countrywide in 2020 so far. Starting today (March 9), there is going to be a third campaign for polio vaccinations this year only – however history shows that each campaign sees a little less than a 100,000 refusals and about six million vaccinations.

Why do parents refuse polio vaccines?

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Previously, UN agencies, including WHO and Unicef, have led the Pakistan polio programme and schedule of the campaign without due regard for the local culture and issues. The workers who are vaccinate children are not able to convince the parents as they do not have the communication skills.

Polio risk perception was recorded to be very low in at the community level and many believed that polio wasn’t dangerous. Because of this, they did not have any problems with letting their children be unimmunised. Many people do not understand that poliomyelitis is a disease which can be eradicated completely by giving two drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to their children below five years of age.

The government feels helpless as the strategies were being made by people who didn’t know about local issues and as a result millions of dollars were spent without any success. It was established that from 2018 to 2021, around $1 billion was allocated to the Pakistan polio programme. While much of it consists of loans and grants, UN has been the one to administer the funding.

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