In a letter to 12 American public health schools, President Obama’s chief counter terrorism advisor outline’s the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) decision to ‘make no operational use of vaccination programs’ for the purpose of acquiring information as well as obtaining or exploiting ‘DNA or other genetic material collected through such programs.’
This statement comes amid escalating violence against vaccine campaign workers in Pakistan. Since 2012 56 people from immunisation teams and their security guard have been killed.
The anti-vaccine movement has been strong in Pakistan’s rural areas for some time thanks to the influence of militant groups including the Taliban. But accusations that the CIA enlisted a Pakistani doctor work on a hoax immunisation scheme have resulted in an escalation. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reports that the CIA organised a fake vaccination programme in an attempt to obtain and verify DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family
This statement comes in reply to a letter to the president penned by the deans of 12 public health school over a year and a half ago. The deans stated that ‘as a general principle, public health programs should not be used as cover for covert operations’ and accused the CIA of having ‘exceeded’ the boundaries with the hoax vaccination program.
A spokesperson for the CIA, Todd Ebitz, has said that ‘By publicizing this policy, our objective is to dispel one canard that militant groups have used as justification for cowardly attacks against vaccination provider,’
The WHO declared the spread of Polio a ‘public health emergency’ earlier this month, and with 66 cases of Polio in Pakistan so far this year (compared to the 16 cases for the rest of the world) let us hope that this declaration from the CIA might have some impact on the perception of vaccines in Pakistan.