Home > In the News, Preventable Diseases, Vaccine Myths > Acts of Violence Interfere with Polio Eradication

Acts of Violence Interfere with Polio Eradication

Today I’ll be picking my children up from school and driving them to the local health department where we will receive our seasonal influenza vaccines.   Within minutes, I expect we’ll be vaccinated and on our way home.  And all the while, I’ll consider myself and my children extremely fortunate to live in America.

rotaryNot only will our vaccine help protect us from the dangers of the flu this season, but previous vaccines keep me from worrying about many preventable diseases, such as polio.  Unlike many parents in foreign nations, I won’t have to walk for hours, carrying my children in my arms, hoping that by the time I make it to the vaccination clinic there will be someone there to administer the vaccine.  And I certainly won’t fear for our safety any time before, during or after the appointment.

And while I’ve been reading personal stories of polio survivors on the Rotary Voices blog this month, in preparation for World Polio Day on October 24th, yesterday’s headlines were a grim reminder of just how much American parents take for granted.

The New York Times reported,

“At least two police officers were killed and a dozen people wounded on Monday when a bomb went off near a health care facility where polio vaccines were being dispensed outside this northwestern Pakistani city.”

While not the bombs of a typical war, these bombs were certainly a violent way to intimidate people and deter vaccination in a country where polio is not yet eradicated.  And this is not the first time that polio vaccination workers, and their efforts to eradicate polio have been targeted.  The anti-vaccine sentiment in Pakistan is not only being fought with bombs and guns, but with rumors and lies.  While extreme religious leaders have suggested that the vaccines are intended to make Muslims infertile, others have accused polio workers of using vaccination campaigns as a cover to spy on behalf of the United States.

Efforts to improve global vaccine access is most often hindered by extreme geographical challenges.  To ensure vaccines reach every corner of the world we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the cold chain and ensure delivery of safe and effective vaccines to every child who needs them.  But the situation in Pakistan is so different that it deserves our attention.  These incidences of violence illustrate how people can use fear and intimidation to interfere with polio eradication and it’s important that we stand behind the various organizations that refuse to succumb to the terrorist tactics we are seeing in Pakistan.

FightToEndPolio-infographicRotary International’s “End Polio Now” campaign is urging everyone to help in their efforts to eradicate polio by signing a petition, sharing your voice over social media, launching a fundraising campaign, or telling your polio story to local news media. The progress so far is encouraging.  

“In 2012, the effort to end polio made historic progress. The year ended with the lowest number of new polio cases in the fewest places ever. There were fewer than 250 reported cases, compared with  350,000 cases in 1985, when Rotary began the fight to end polio. Today, we are “this close” to creating a polio-free world, and we need your help.”

For more information about yesterday’s unfortunate bombing and the way forward for polio eradication, check out a special PBS video by clicking here.    

To hear more about Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio, see the video below.

  1. Lawrence
    October 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

    This highlights that medical professionals are actively putting themselves in harms’ way in the attempt to eradicate a horrible disease from the planet…..the fact that anti-vaccine activists exist & in some cases even revel in these types of incidents, shows just how horrible they truly are….

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  2. October 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Had a chance to see Dr. Bruce Aylward speak on the global polio eradication efforts at the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics conference this past summer. Very good presentation, albeit a bit sad when he touched on things mentioned in this article. Friends and colleagues of his that have been killed trying to administer the vaccine to children. Such a shame.

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  3. October 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

    We are lucky, in many ways, to live in a first world country. One of the things that allow anti-vaccine activists to militate the way they do in our part of the world is that they enjoy the protection of herd immunity that the rest of us confer on them. But as you point out, we are also lucky to not have violent barriers put in our way to life saving vaccines. And you have to wonder about spillover: do the words of anti-vaccine activists here contribute to opposition to vaccines there, and to these kinds of horrible acts?

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  4. reissd
    October 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Thank you, also, for the resources about becoming active.

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  5. Lawrence
    October 8, 2013 at 9:46 am

    @Dorit – unfortunately, the answer is yes. There are forces within many of these countries that point of the Western Anti-Vaccine messaging to justify their violent opposition to the distribution of vaccines….it truly is an instance where the anti-vaccine folks have blood on their hands.

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  6. October 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    While many of us here in the Online Pro-vaccine advocacy world have received our fair share of death threats and scary accusations, they pale in comparison to what these brave international healthcare workers face on a daily basis. Like Christine mentioned in the post, this isn’t a one time occurrence, this has happened before, yet the HCW still report to work to help the people in need and vaccinate.
    When I head into work at night, and talk to patients about the importance of getting the flu shots and other various immunizations, I don’t have to worry about the roof of my hospital collapsing due to anti-vaccinators- but that is a real threat that the nurses, doctors and health workers face during their shift.
    My thoughts and prayers to those who continue to work hard to protect children and families from the threat of polio while their own lives are threatened with violence and possible death.

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  7. Amy pisani
    October 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Having returned from Horn of Africa this August I am heart broken that any person fighting the vaccine preventable diseases would need to add the fear of safety to their hearts. These are people of outstanding nature and I pray for their ongoing safety.

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  8. mplo
    October 21, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    This is really scary! These anti-vaccine people are getting to be more and more like the anti-choice people who blocked/bombed reproductive clinics where abortions were performed, sprayed toxic chemicals into clinics, assaulted, beat up, and even killed clinic workers and doctors who performed abortions. This has to stop!

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