Pakistan vaccine panic

Polling suggests that less than half of Pakistanis are willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine with distrust likely triggered by past CIA operations

Photo from AFP.

— 2 minute read — By Josh Allen

As the vaccine roll out begins around the world against COVID-19, there’s always going to be a minority of people across the globe who object to the it for various reasons; the scepticism of vaccines is far from a new concept. However, the many variations of COVID-19 vaccine are now seeing an unprecedented resistance.

It is Pakistan who are by far the most sceptical. In a recent report by Gallup Pakistan, it was found that 49 percent of Pakistani people were not willing to take the vaccine, with 57 percent of survey respondents still believing that the threat of the coronavirus has been exaggerated. With over 13,000 deaths and the 7-day average of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan still well above 1,000, it might be hard to understand why such a large proportion of the population is so sceptical of both the vaccine and the pandemic, and what has caused such a reaction from the Pakistani people. 

Pakistan has reason to be concerned, though. In 2011 it was reported that the CIA had utilised a fake Hepatitis B vaccination program in the city of Abbottabad in an attempt to locate wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden. In collaboration with Shakil Afridi – Pakistan’s health minister – the CIA put their program to work, disguising their aims of finding Bin Laden’s DNA under the guise of a false vaccination. They also carried out extensive drone strikes in the region, only deepening the distrust in the establishment at home and abroad. Since then, vaccine roll outs have proven unpopular in Pakistan, with polio still not yet eradicated and those working hard to provide vaccinations attacked on a frequent basis. Approximately 100 deaths in the past decade have resulted from attacks on healthcare workers. The legacy of this horrific espionage cover, alongside an already degenerated faith in the public health care system in Pakistan, has led to an extreme distrust of western aid and explains why so many people are cautious about the prospect of another mass vaccination roll out, once again fearing what may come if they agree to participate.

Despite the White House announcing that the CIA would not be using vaccination programs as covers for espionage in 2014, the damage has been done, and the scars left on the country could prove to be costly as the virus continues to wage devastation on the lives of people worldwide.