An Afghan child receives the oral polio vaccine at a refugee camp in Pakistan.
From Getty Images.
Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the CIA in Pakistan used the cover of an immunization campaign to gather DNA samples in their attempt to find Osama Bin Laden. The operation was unsuccessful in finding any of Bin Laden´s relatives and does not appear to have lead to the assassination of Bin Laden in April. The participating Pakistani doctor has been arrested and news of the fake campaign will surely have negative affects on public health efforts in the future.
An except from the article:
The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children.
Afridi had posters for the vaccination programme put up around Abbottabad, featuring a vaccine made by Amson, a medicine manufacturer based on the outskirts of Islamabad.
In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.
It is not known exactly how the doctor hoped to get DNA from the vaccinations, although nurses could have been trained to withdraw some blood in the needle after administrating the drug.
This operation was profoundly unethical in a number of ways.
As the article reports, the full 3 dose course for the hepatitis B vaccine was not given to the patients. No patients benefited from this immunization campaign. Even if the vaccines were real, the campaign was completely fake.
The mistrust this operation will cause in the community could be disastrous for public health efforts in the near future. Pakistan has still been unable to eradicate polio from its borders. While the Taliban have sometimes supported vaccination campaigns, they have also sabotaged them with violence and rumors that the vaccine is a «tool from the West» meant to sterilize Muslim populations. Now it seems true that immunization campaigns really can be a tool of the West.
The CIA has exploited the trust communities hold in medical professionals and may possibly have exacerbated existing suspicions that vaccinations can be used against them.