Polio vaccination and mass hysteria

We are getting close to eradicating polio…but we are not there yet.

That is why a recent article in this week’s Economist on polio vaccination in Pakistan is so troubling.

Worried parents began arriving at hospitals in ones and twos, then dozens and soon hundreds. Each was convinced their child was sick, poisoned by polio drops dispensed in the latest government vaccination campaign. By the end of the day, a total of 25,000 children had overwhelmed hospitals in Peshawar alone. Health officials declared an emergency and the nationwide campaign was suspended. Yet doctors say none of the children was ill and none was admitted to hospital.
Pakistan had seen resistance to polio vaccination before, but nothing like this bout of mass hysteria, which took place in April. It was triggered by false rumours that schoolchildren outside Peshawar had fainted, vomited or even died after taking drops. Fake videos of ailing children on social media amplified the panic. As imams called people onto the streets, a mob ransacked and burned a small clinic. In the aftermath of the panic, 2m children have gone unvaccinated.

The Economist, 6-12 July

Currently, polio truly only exists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has had a history of aversion to vaccination. A number of years ago, terrorists in Pakistan shot vaccination workers. Hopefully polio will be eradicated soon.


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