What USA could learn from Pakistan vaccination campaigns

Pakistan vaccination

Pakistan wasted more than 3 million dollars worth of vaccines because officials did not store them properly, Reuters reported on March, 2nd. “The scandal is the latest problem to be exposed in Pakistan's poorly run public health services,” the article reads. And yet, the United States could learn a thing or two from the South Asia country when it comes to dealing with parents who won’t vaccinate their children. In America, anti-vaxxers not only get away with refusing to vaccinate their children without a valid reason; they are actually allowed to do so! In Pakistan, on the other hand, they would get their asses thrown in jail – and not just any jail, either; a Pakistani jail. Way to put their foot down.   

More than 400 parents have been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for denying their children the benefits of inoculation against polio. They are charged with endangering public safety. So while American legislators struggle to introduce bills against vaccination exclusions on the base of personal belief – not to outlaw these exemptions, mind you, only to make it more difficult to get them that it currently is, which is not at all – that, like turtles hatching in a tropical beach on their way to the ocean, very few of which if any will become law, their Pakistani counterparts not only already have such laws, but –get this – actually enforce them. And let’s not even get started on states with laws so old and so hard to change that they probably were literally etched in stone. Another Reuters article points out: “In Maryland, for example, the state's Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that schools could not deny exemptions to parents with religious objections, saying that could lead to discrimination.”

Coincidentally, the Pakistani parents who were arrested were “influenced by some clerics who decry government vaccination campaigns as a tool to weaken Islam,” director of health for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region Pervez Kamal said. And do you know who else opposed immunization? The Taliban. That puts anti-vaxxers in the same group as two of the collectives most hated by the Western world: Islamists and terrorists – though some would erroneously claim that they are indeed one of the same. Has it ever occurred to these parents who invoke their rights, and the Constitution, and justice, truth, and the American way, and their Christian god with its Caucasian, blue-eyed Jesus that there is at least one thing that they can all agree on with Allah-worshippers and suicide bombers?

In fact, they share more common ground that they would think. Southeast Asia hates anything American just as much as Americans hate anything un-American, claiming that made-in-USA vaccines are an “intrusion upon their culture,” according to New York Medical College Indian-American professor Dr. Padmini Murthy. Moreover, the Taliban spread the specious rumor – or maybe they actually believe it, you never know – that vaccination is a Western scheme to sterilize children, and also the vaccines cause AIDS. Which is every bit as ludicrous as believing that there is a link between vaccinations and autism, as they do in the good ol’ US of A.

Another similarity? Measles was under control in the United States since the early 2000’s. Now outbreaks are popping up, and not just out of the blue; it is the consequence of years of weakening herd immunity by allowing parents to exempt their children from vaccination by simply signing a waver that was ostensibly based on personal, philosophical, or religious beliefs, but might as well have read “because I damn well feel like it.” Polio, on the other hand, has been estimated by the World Health Organization to have declined by 99% in the past quarter of a century thanks to aggressive vaccination campaigns. There are only three countries where it is still endemic, and one of them is Pakistan. Not coincidentally, the disease made a return to that nation at about the same time as the Taliban started attempting to bring down the government and impose Islamic rule. Since 2012, 64 health workers conducting vaccine campaigns – such as the current one aimed at 2.7 million children – have been assassinated. A few hundred arrests, which as Kamal admitted were a last resort after numerous awareness efforts fell flat, don’t seem so bad anymore.

Sure, no healthcare worker vaccinating children has been killed in action in the U.S. (yet), but how long until vaccination centers become the target of the same type of domestic terrorists that attack abortion clinics? Or until the next school shooting is perpetrated by an anti-vaccination fanatic who doesn’t want children to be vaccinated at school? Far-fetched? Maybe, but that doesn’t change the fact that refusing inoculation is not a victimless crime. If mailing letters containing anthrax spores is a crime, then sending an immunized kid to school should be as well. And if you do the crime, you must do the time. As deputy commissioner Riaz Khan Mehsud told the AFP, “There is no mercy, we have decided to deal with the refusal cases with iron hands. Anyone who refuses [the vaccine] will be sent to jail.”

Related Read:

- 10 Vaccination misconceptions (that don't hold water)

- Pakistan arrests parents for refusing children's polio vaccinations.

- INSIGHT - Tougher laws a likely legacy of the Disneyland measles outbreak.

- For parents in Pakistan, It's vaccinate or Face Jail.