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Global Health Community Reacts To CIA’s Faux Vaccine Operation In Pakistan

After the Guardian broke the story that the CIA organized a fake vaccination program in Pakistan in an effort to confirm the location of Osama bin Laden and obtain DNA from his family members, several writers and health experts reacted to the situation, noting the possible implications for future health efforts.

  • On the “Global Health Policy” blog, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, points out that Pakistan “is in the midst of another polio outbreak, battling to stamp out the disease by next year as a vital part of the global eradication program” (7/12).
  • “I am glad we got bin Laden. But doesn’t the CIA have enough credibility problems? Was adding to the frenzied fear of conspiracy, not to mention the doubts people have about their leaders or the burdens of physicians who spend endless hours trying to convince reluctant parents to vaccinate their children, genuinely necessary here?” writer Michael Specter writes on the New Yorker’s “News Desk” blog (7/12).
  • “I think this is a horrible move with potentially dangerous consequences,” author Seth Mnookin writes on the PLoS blog, “The Panic Virus.” He adds: “We’ve already seen polio eradication efforts hindered by rumors that the polio vaccine is being used by Western imperialists to sterilize Muslims. Now, anti-vaccine activists have been given a legitimate reason to question the motives behind grass-roots vaccination campaigns” (7/12).
  • “What is most concerning to me about this ruse is the wider context in which this operation was conducted. Yes, I am glad that bin Laden is no longer of this earth, but I wonder how many parents in Pakistan will now refuse to get their children vaccinated – particularly against polio?” Managing Editor Mark Goldberg writes on “U.N. Dispatch” (7/12).
  • “The phony vaccination program is a grim reminder of the complexity of international relations as well as the interrelatedness of the world. The local doctor leading the program, Dr. Shakil Afridi, ‘used a team of nurses and other health workers to administer hepatitis B vaccinations throughout Abbottabad.’ He since has been imprisoned by the Pakistanis for his complicity with the American ruse,” Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease specialist, writes in the Daily Beast. “Yet one could argue that our attention has been focused on the wrong enemy: in the year 2000, 620,000 people died of complications related to hepatitis B, something Dr. Afridi’s vaccinations (were they real) could have prevented. Hepatitis B – now that is a real evil-doer” (7/12).
  • Reporter Tom Paulson also rounds up some commentary on the situation on KPLU’s “Humanosphere” blog (7/12).