• An editorial from The New York Times, published 5/26/14
The use of a sham vaccination program in the government’s hunt for Osama bin Laden has produced a lethal backlash in Pakistan where dozens of public health workers have been murdered and fearful parents are shunning polio vaccine for their children.
Leaders of a dozen American schools of public health raised an alarm with the Obama administration 16 months ago and finally got a response this month when the White House promised that the C.I.A. will no longer use phony immunization programs in its spying operations.
The fakery -— one of an assortment of intelligence stratagems before the successful raid that killed Bin Laden —- should never have been used in a world where hardworking health care agencies depend on the trust of local communities.
The C.I.A.’s ruse involved phony door-to-door solicitations by a physician promising to deliver hepatitis B immunizations; his real purpose was to confirm Bin Laden’s suspected hiding place. The ploy helped fuel a militant backlash against immunization workers, and as many as 60 health workers and police officers have since been killed.
Meanwhile, polio is on the rise, with Pakistan accounting for 66 of the 82 cases reported so far this year by the World Health Organization (WHO). Last year, there were 93 cases of polio in Pakistan, where the health organization warns that the disease is endemic, as it is in Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The C.I.A. can no longer seek to “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material” gathered this way, according to a promise from the Obama administration. That is small comfort for those suffering the aftereffects of this ruse.
Convincing wary parents to accept polio vaccination —- and finding health workers willing to risk violence — has been made more difficult than ever.